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Review of Wildlife Crime Trial Court Judgments in Maharashtra



WPSI Legal Programme
7 January 2014


Wildlife offences are tried in magistrate's courts across India, and the judgments in these cases have not been freely available. With the ongoing digitization of court records, this information is now becoming available for analysis.

Several judgments of trial courts in Maharashtra are now available online at http://court.mah.nic.in/courtweb/index.php. A search of the website for cases registered under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 (the WPA) leads to 147 judgments being available (last searched on 4 December 2014). These relate to cases registered between1995 and 2014, and the judgments were all delivered between 15 October 2008 and 24 November 2014.

Of these 147 trial court judgments under the WPA, only 17 have recorded convictions, or a success rate of 11.56% for the prosecution. We are hesitant to term this as a "conviction rate" since it is not certain that all trial court judgments under the WPA have been uploaded for Maharashtra for the time period.

If the judgments are further filtered to take into account only cases relating to poaching, illegal possession and trade of wild animals, there are a total of 108 cases in which 16 convictions were recorded, or a success rate of 14.81%.

Rates of conviction are not reliable figures by which to gauge levels of implementation of the law since an independent judiciary decides each case on its merits. However, they are a valuable marker by which the efficiency of investigation and prosecution agencies can be evaluated. The low success rates stated above, as well as the judgments themselves, point to serious lacunae in the investigation, documentation, and prosecution of wildlife crime in Maharashtra. Such a low conviction rate has serious implications for the deterrence value of the law.

Most of the judgments reveal that even when the investigation agency claims to have caught the accused “red handed”, the prosecution has been unable to prove the accused was in possession of the illegal items. The norm is for witnesses to turn hostile, and often the prosecution / investigation authorities have not shown up in court. A large number of the cases have resulted in acquittals due to the lack of independent witnesses to corroborate the facts alleged by the prosecution.

In quite a few cases, articles that the investigation agencies claimed to have seized were not produced before the court. Another common error is the use of incorrect provisions of the WPA to prosecute offences.  

Most judgments do not involve a discussion of which Schedule of the WPA the concerned species is listed in, and the corresponding provisions of the WPA. However, the prosecution has often been unable to prove any of the alleged facts, rendering even such basic discussion unnecessary.

Another cause for serious concern is that in 4 of the cases in which convictions have been recorded, the magistrates have not sentenced the accused to the mandatory minimum punishment prescribed by the WPA. Offences in relation to animals specified in Schedule I and Part II of the WPA carry a prescribed penalty of not less than three years imprisonment, which may extend up to seven years and also a fine of not less than ten thousand Rupees.[1]These cases are non-compoundable.

In one case involving a conviction in respect of live sloth bears (listed in Schedule I of the WPA), the accused was awarded a sentence of one day’s imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 3,000.[2]In another case involving the seizure of a blackbuck skin (listed in Schedule I of the WPA), the accused was sentenced to six months imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 2,500.[3] The accused in a case involving the seizure of a piece of tiger skin, and a paw (listed in Schedule I of the WPA) was awarded a sentence of 130 days imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 20,000.[4]

It should be pointed out that according to the National Crime Records Bureau, while the over-all conviction rate in India in the year 2012 for crimes under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 was 38.5%, the corresponding figure for Maharashtra was only 9.4%.[5]

The investigation and prosecution of wildlife crime in Maharashtra is clearly a matter of concern that needs to be reviewed by the State Government.


___________________________________
[1] First proviso to Section 51(1) of the WPA.
[2] State v. Sahebji Hussain Darveshi and another, judgment dated 23 January 2001, in Criminal Case No. 248/2007, before the JMFC Ichalkaranji.
[3] State v. Jay Niwruti Parakhe, judgment dated 19 September 2011, in Criminal Case No. 2255/2009, before the JMFC Pune.
[4] State v. Safarmal T Chauwani, judgment dated 15 October 2008, in Criminal Case No. 330/2008, before the CJM Wardha.
[5] See this link


 

 

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