“Manipur is a haven for wildlife crimes because of its rich biodiversity and proximity to the international border,” a police official remarks.
Amid the growing global concern over the changing wildlife scenario across the world, border state Manipur in Northeast India, which shares an international border with Myanmar, has been witnessing a surge in wildlife smuggling in recent years.
Expressing deep concern, several legal experts and forest officials point out several setbacks owing to which wildlife crime is increasing in Manipur and stressed for massive awareness creation and collaboration among other ways to effectively address the issue.
It is not only Manipur, India as a whole stands vulnerable to wildlife crimes because of the porous international borders and its rich biodiversity, says Manipur High Court Chief Justice Sanjay Kumar.
What accounts for wildlife crime?
“Capturing, dealing, taking, trading, importing, exporting, processing, obtaining wild flora and fauna in contravention of national law refers to wildlife crime,” Justice A Bimol Singh of Manipur High Court explains.
Bimol says that India is the 17th biodiversity-rich country in the world with 70 per cent of the planet’s biodiversity though it occupies less than 10 per cent of the earth’s surface area. "Generally, though they are aware, poeple do not give importance to preserving and protecting the rich wildlife of the country,” he says.
How can we effectively tackle wildlife crimes?
In a bid to effectively tackle the increasing wildlife crimes, Chief Justice Sanjay Kumar has called for sustained collaboration among all stakeholders, including various government agencies and forces in the state and Central level.
Kumar also stresses the need to strengthen the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, saying the law should have provisions to deal with illegal trade of exotic animals as well.
“Dealing with wildlife smuggling crime, the fourth largest illegal trade in the world, requires a probe into its link to Narco-terrorism and arms smuggling and using of latest scientific mode on investigation DNA tests and wildlife forensics to increase conviction rate,” he says to IFP.
The chief justice also stressed the need to hold training sessions, awareness workshops for forest, police, judiciary and other government agencies for effective tackling of wildlife crimes “through synergised efforts in India, a country with major biodiversity”.
Is the law enough to protect the environment?
Both legal and forest officials expressed the need to raise more awareness on the importance of wildlife and their protection, saying that the law alone cannot effectively tackle wildlife crimes.
Many laws are framed by the government to prohibit possession and hunting, but “law alone cannot protect wildlife,” opeines Justice Bimol.
“The country being a treasure trove of flora and fauna, law and Acts alone cannot protect the biodiversity. There should be synergy among law enforcing forces, forest agencies and judiciary. There is a need for massive awareness drive on use of technology for prevention of wildlife crimes,” he suggests.
Chief Conservator of Forest, Manipur, Longjam Joykumar also says that Manipur with rich biodiversity and being close to the porous international border is vulnerable to wildlife crime.
Apart from strict enforcement of the Wildlife (Protection) Act for prevention of such crimes, Joykumar underlines the need for massive awareness among all stakeholders.
Setbacks: Reporting on wildlife crime low and delay in conviction
In the age of media dependency with the onset of social media, low reporting on wildlife crime is seen as one of the major setbacks that fails to deter offenders from committing the crimes.
Justice M V Muralidaran of the High Court of Manipur, speaking at a workshop, calls for serious introspection on the part of all agencies concerned about low reporting on wildlife crime in Manipur and delay in conviction of guilty.
In view of the felt need, the Manipur State Legal Services Authority in collaboration with research-based biodiversity conservation organisation Aaranyak presented a wide picture on wildlife crime in global and regional perspective at a workshop on ‘Wildlife crime prevention–challenges, solutions and role of stake holders’, which was held at the High Court of Manipur, Imphal.
“As a global citizen, it is the duty of every citizen to strive for protection of wildlife which is essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)… India has become a source, destination and major trafficking route for illegal wildlife trade,” he says.
Low conviction rates in wildlife crimes
Apart from delay in court proceedings, Joykumar cites low conviction rates in wildlife crime cases as some of the setbacks and observed that usually the court tends to ignore the provisions for imprisonment of wildlife criminals who get away with only imposition of fines.
Pointing out that it is human greed that has led to proliferation of wildlife crimes, Director General of Manipur Police, P Doungel says, “Manipur can be considered a haven for wildlife crimes because of its proximity to the international border”.
Doungel also called for synergised efforts in place among various agencies, including police, forest department, Assam Rifles, Customs and Wildlife Crime Control Bureau to protect and preserve wildlife.