BHUBANESWAR: With ivory smugglers turning Odisha into a graveyard for elephants, the State Government has handed over investigation of two more cases of poaching to the Crime Branch (CB). Both the cases were reported from Padiabahal forest range in Sambalpur, which has emerged as the new hunting ground for the poachers.
Though the Sambalpur (South) Forest Division nabbed six of the accused, it was unable to trail the buyer(s) who is/are believed to be in the State at present. The CB has sent a special team to Sambalpur to take up the investigation.
This year, the CB has been handed over at least five cases of elephant poaching which were reported from Sambalpur district alone.
While Similipal, Kuldiha, Satkosia and Athagarh had earned the notoriety of being smugglers’ paradise in the past, the poachers have now shifted focus to the western district. Its contiguity to Jharkhand has added to the vulnerability of the jumbos. Although the Wildlife Wing investigation pointed at the role of locals in most of the poaching, the trail was lost so far as the buyers were concerned.
“We will look at the larger conspiracy and the network of poachers and smugglers. We have been assigned at least 12 cases in last three years, including three in January,” said ADG, Crime Branch BK Sharma.
In January, three tuskers were killed in Jamankira by an organised group of poachers and during the investigation, the CB had found the links of a racket that spread its network in neighbouring States. Chief Wildlife Warden SS Srivastava said the Crime Branch has been entrusted with the cases as it has the technical expertise required to track down the buyers and bust the network.
With the rising incidence of poaching, the CB had proposed a Wildlife Crime Cell with officers from the Wildlife Wing. The proposal is under active consideration of the State Government and could go a long way in tracking such cases.
Srivastava said though there is a crime control cell with the Wildlife Wing, the proposed unit will be placed with CB where an Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF) ranked officer could be posted. A major constraint in wildlife crime investigation in the State has been weak prosecution. While police can book the culprits and record their statements, it is not admissible in the court of law whereas a statement before an ACF ranked officer is.
Sharma said a multi-disciplinary approach can help in gathering of intelligence, investigation as well as monitoring of prosecution leading to convictions which will create a dent.