| Forest Officers Get
Protection from Harassment by Wildlife Offenders
30th April, 2004
We are all familiar
with incidents where enforcement authorities carry out
a raid or arrest suspected criminals, and then have
charges of misdemeanour filed against them by the accused.
This demoralises and discourages the officers, for they
have to personally bear the costs of their legal defence.
On 24 March 2004, a Bench of the Honourable Supreme
Court of India passed a judgement in the State of Orissa
vs. Ganesh Chandra Jew case. This landmark judgement
will be of great help to enforcement agencies and prevent
criminals from abusing the law to harass upright officers.
The Court clarified the interpretation and applicability
of Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code. This
Section states that if a State or Central Government
officer is to be prosecuted for any offence allegedly
committed during the discharge of official duties, sanction
to do so is required from the State or Central government.
The case proved to be an excellent means of clarifying
this point. Ganesh Jew had been arrested by the Orissa
Forest Department in 1991 for the possession of ivory
tusks. He later filed a case against the Forest Department
officers, stating he had been assaulted and publicly
humiliated during his arrest. The officers appealed
against this complaint. The case went through the court
of Sub-Divisional Judicial Magistrate, Baripada, and
the Orissa High Court before it finally reached the
The Court categorically stated "the cognisance
of any offence, by any court, is barred by Section 197
of the Code unless sanction is obtained from the appropriate
authority, if the offence, alleged to have been committed,
was in discharge of the official duty".
The Court went on to say, "very cognisance is
barred. That is the complaint, cannot be taken notice
of." [Italics added]
The Bench, consisting of Justices Doraiswamy Raju and
Arijit Pasayat, opined in clear terms that while prosecuting
officials have to exercise restrain when investigating
a wildlife matter and arresting suspects, offenders
should not be able to stop the due process of law by
initiating false and frivolous complaints in order to
vitiate the trial.
Lawyers from the Wildlife Protection Society of India,
who were closely monitoring this case in the Supreme
Court, believe that this judgement will go a long way
in creating a safety net for enforcement personnel investigating