Crime pays as fines too low: Report

Guwahati, Jan. 25: The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) ' an international wildlife conservation group has stated that increased fines imposed by Assam forest department to counter wildlife trade is too low as compared to the money being made from illegal rhino trade.

This was stated by CITES in its document on rhinoceros which will be placed at its 16th meeting in Bangkok from March 3-14.

According to the report, the Wildlife (Protection) (Assam Amendment) Bill-2009 made the following amendments.

Increased sentences for wildlife offences in Assam

Minimum term of imprisonment of convicted offenders raised to seven years from three years. While a second conviction would lead to 10 years in jail

Provision for life imprisonment for repeat offenders

Fine for a first time offender doubled to Rs 50,000

"While these increased fines may represent a significant amount to a poor rural subsistence farmer, they bear no relation to the economic value of rhino crimes," the report said.

CITES, which has 177 countries as members, said the illegal rhino horn trade has become a major problem and impacted several continents. "Increased international co-operation and a well co-ordinated law enforcement response are required to address this threat effectively," it said.

The aim of CITES is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. It said, overall, most Asian countries provide full protection to rhino species under their wildlife legislation. "Jail terms are generally high, but compared to the illegal value of horns to criminals, fines in both India and Nepal remain extremely low."

The Assam government has provided immunity to all forest officers under CrPC 1973 which enables forest officials to exercise their duties with more legal teeth and support. "These initiatives are likely to be copied by other states in the country to strengthen efforts to combat wildlife crime," it added.

The report said losses to the rhino population owing to poaching are still low in India and the national population continues to increase.

Following severe seasonal flooding, increased poaching of rhinos that moved outside Kaziranga has been reported. "However, compared to many African range states, poaching levels in India remain low but there is no room for complacency," the report stated.

Despite a request from CITES, no rhino horn stock information was made available by any Asian country. In India, based on the forest department rhino horn stock registry, more than 1,500 rhino horns have reportedly been deposited in various treasuries, more than 90 per cent of them in Assam. Most of these horns have been recovered from natural deaths, but about 10 per cent of them have been obtained from hauls.

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