By Vijay Pinjarkar
NAGPUR: The Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court has ruled that the possibility of fleeing from justice and tampering evidence should not be the only factors taken into account while granting bail to the accused but seriousness of crime, larger public interest and its impact on society should be considered as well.
Justice SB Shukre made these observations in a detailed order while rejecting the bail application of major international tiger skin and body parts trader Suraj Pal alias Chacha. Special prosecutor Kartik N Shukul appeared for the forest department while RJ Mirza appeared for Chacha, who is in Tihar jail for the past 15 months.
"Just an impression that maximum punishment in poaching tigers is 7 years cannot be a ground for granting bail. The order by additional sessions judge (ASJ) granting bail to Chacha in July is not in consonance with guiding principles laid down by the apex court," ruled the high court.
It states that crime of Chacha trading tiger skins in global market must be gauged by its enormity, its extent and its repercussions on the society or larger public interest. The offence has transnational ramifications.
Justice Shukre ruled that tiger is of paramount importance for maintaining the pristine health of an ecosystem, and is essential for the survival of mankind. "Removal of top carnivore from an ecosystem will lead to relative abundance of herbivores and other species within a guild having cascading effect on environment," he said.
The high court ruling will have national effect in poaching cases, said legal expert Yashkumar Soni from MP, who has been fighting many wildlife crime cases. "This must be perhaps the first case wherein bail application of an accused in tiger poaching has been cancelled. Otherwise, poachers easily get away by securing bail," Soni said.
Highlighting importance of tigers, Justice Shukre ruled that healthy ecosystem determines sustainability of life on earth itself and tigers are important benchmark of a healthy forest. Habitats where tigers are abound are considered to be extremely high value ecosystem.
"Tigers also boost wildlife tourism and are part of our rich cultural heritage, Therefore, their extinction would mean depriving future generations the pleasures of seeking daily humdrum of life in forests and also the benefits of our folkways and mores. These factors have not at all been considered by the ASJ," Justice Shukre ruled.
The ASJ had ruled that as Chacha had four sons and had roots in the society and will not run away from justice, but the high court said that wildlife trade is lucrative business. "When stakes involved in crime are high, the lure for money and thrill of act become too powerful to be reined in by moorings of sons," the court said.
Shukul had argued that the accused is in a dominant position and is already threatening witnesses and that granting bail to the accused would adversely affect the trial and investigation.
Expounding tiger poaching as a serious crime, the high court cancelled Chacha's bail. However, the court granted liberty to Chacha to move fresh application for grant of regular bail. He has been given two weeks to move the apex court.