No one gets punished for wildlife offences in Odisha. Well almost, none. Such is the shoddy state of affairs with the Wildlife Wing that during the five years between 2007 and 2011, not one conviction was recorded in any wildlife crime in the entire State.
Shocking but true. Between 2006-07 and 2010-2011, as many as 56 cases of elephant hunting and 372 cases of poaching of other wild animals were registered. In connection with these cases, the wildlife officials and police arrested 816 persons. Till May 2012, not one of them was convicted.
The zero conviction was due to the fact that the Wildlife Wing could not make provision of special lawyer for filing the prosecution cases in the trial courts. Besides, non-issue of final notification of sanctuaries also created hurdles since offences could not be established in the absence of statutory norms. The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) mentioned these shortcomings in its report that led to non-conviction of the accused.
Besides, the State did not create the special strike force to combat the forest offences. When the CAG sought the comment of Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) on this, he did not furnish any reply.
In fact, the lackadaisical attitude of the State appears to be a top down process. For the State Board for Wildlife (SBWL) which is headed by the Chief Minister, does not meet on time. As per Section 7 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the Board must meet at least twice a year and advise the Government on the selection and management of protected areas (PAs), formulation of policy for protection and conservation of wildlife and specified plants and measures for harmonising the needs of the tribals and other dwellers of forest.
The SBWL was constituted in September 2003 for a period of two years. The tenure of the Board expired on September 29, 2005 and it was reconstituted on October 16, 2007.
During that two-year period, the Board’s functioning was nil. The Board met only twice during the period 2003-11 as against the required 16 meetings as stipulated in the Act.
This reflected on the conservation practices too. As per National Wildlife Action Plan 2002-2016, the national goal is to set apart 10 per cent of geographical area as PAs. As against the benchmark, the State only has 4.35 per cent covered by sanctuaries and national parks.
Though the first Board had endorsed proposals for declaration of five new sanctuaries, no step was taken to give it shape. Other important decisions taken in the meeting were neither reviewed nor followed up.