After a discussion on whether poaching should be treated with the same gravity as murder, the talk turned to the ills that plague the system. Kishor Rithe, a member on the National Board of Wild Life and president of Satpuda Foundation, recalled an instance from 1999 in which eight poachers were arrested with skins of tigers and leopards. "Despite such strong evidence, the case is still dragging on," he noted. Poonam Dhanwatey, founder trustee of Tiger Research & Conservation Trust (TRACT) and honorary wildlife warden of Chandrapur, said that it was because of such instances that poaching needed to be regarded as seriously as murder.
Nitin Desai, Central India director of Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), described several problems related to investigation and prosecution. "Very few poaching cases are detected. This is followed by average documentation of case papers. Cases go on for decades in court. I recently gave testimony as witness in a case dating back to 1996. The lack of deterrence can be gauged from the fact that even sons of poachers are following in their fathers' footsteps," he said.
Mahendra Singh Chouhan, honorary wildlife warden of Gadchiroli, also said that despite evidence there were few convictions in wildlife crime. "The lure of money drives local villagers to poach wild animals and help organized gangs," he said.
The panel also criticized the defensive mindset of officials, many of whom go reflexively into denial mode when questioned about poaching in their areas. Nishikant Jadhav, former IFS officer of Madhya Pradesh cadre and former field director of Satpuda Tiger Reserve, said that almost the entire tiger population in Panna Tiger Reserve was obliterated because of this mindset.
Representing the forest department was AK Nigam, managing director of Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra. He sought to address several concerns raised by the other panellists. "The nature of offences in forests is more complex than in civil areas. Another problem is that apart from van majoors or forest labourers, the staff strength of the department in the state is about 18,000, whereas the police department is much better staffed," he said, and added in a lighter vein that because the designation of most forest officials contained the word 'conservator', they tended to be conservative when queried about estimates of poaching. More....