By Vijay Pinjarkar
Nagpur: In a classic example of how casually poaching cases are handled, nine accused involved in trading tiger skin and leopard nails were set free by a Bhandara court since forest officials failed to file a chargesheet in the stipulated 60 days.
While investigating officials and prosecutors in Nagpur and Melghat are fighting it out for more than a year to keep poachers behind bars, their counterparts in Bhandara gave up in three months since senior officials showed no interest in the case. All the accused were released on bail recently.
While Bhandara deputy conservator (DyCF) Vinay Thakre said the accused were released on bail by default, since three months had already lapsed, investigating officer BP Rathod said the accused were bailed out as the chargesheet could not be filed in the mandatory 60 days.
Acting on a tip-off from a Bengaluru-based NGO, Bhandara officials had seized a tiger skin on July 28 from kingpin Vikas Maraskolhe, and subsequently five nails of a leopard killed in MP Pench. Nine accused, including one each from Chhattisgarh and Odisha, and 7 from Bhandara, Nagpur, Deori and Gondia were also nabbed.
The NGO tipped off forest officials after a lot of hard work to trail the accused but Bhandara officials failed to handle the case properly. The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), New Delhi, too has cast aspersions on officials for poor handling of the case.
Rathod admits that chargesheet should have been filed in 60 days, but claimed that it could not be done since the arrested accused are just carriers and the main accused, who poached the tiger and leopard, are still at large.
"Besides, we are also waiting for the forensic report of the seized material. Once a chargesheet is filed against the accused, changes cannot be made and hence the delay," said Rathod.
On the contrary, DyCF Thakre said the court released all the accused on bail since investigations were complete and recovery had been done. The accused have agreed to appear in the range office twice a week.
A forest department source said most of the accused are influential and from well-to-do families. One of the accused is a close relative of a politician from Odisha.