New Delhi: In a rare verdict convicting one of the country’s most infamous wildlife criminals, Sansar Chand was yesterday held guilty by a city court hearing a 15-year-old case of illegal possession of a leopard skin.
The judgment was announced by the Court of the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (Special Acts) Dig Vinay Singh. The sentence is scheduled to be announced on August 25.
The case pertains to the seizure of one leopard skin from Sansar’s possession in an operation carried out by a team from Police Station Sadar Bazar on July 17, 1995, in the Indian capital.
“A team comprising police authorities – Inspector HS Meena, ASI Dal Chand, ASI Surender Singh, Head Constable Vedpal, Constables Virender and Dhaniram had apprehended Sansar with the skin hidden in a canvas bag, following a tip-off. Them, as well as wildlife inspector VB Dasan, who was the complainant in the case and had identified the article, were called in as witnesses. Their statements, as well as constant follow-up of the case by the office of Delhi Chief Wildlife Warden, DM Shukla, helped nail Sansar,” said Saurabh Sharma, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) lawyer, who assisted the prosecution led by Atiq Ahmed, Prosecutor, Delhi Government.
Although accused in numerous other wildlife cases, Sansar Chand has been convicted in only a few. This includes the first instance of his arrest in 1974 when he was 16-years-old.
“Sansar’s first arrest was in September 11, 1974. He was arrested from his house in Sadar Bazar, and several wildlife articles were recovered. He was sentenced to a year and half in prison along with a fine of 5,000 rupees, by an ACMM court. His petition in the High Court was quashed. After serving about six months in prison, he was pardoned by the Supreme Court as he was a juvenile during his arrest,” added Sharma.
In at least four cases in Delhi, Sansar Chand was tried on the basis of confessional statements of various accused traders but later discharged as there was no direct recovery of contraband from his possession. However, in an exception, he was convicted by the Special Railway Court of Ajmer in 2004, following seizure of leopard skins, which was linked to him through confessions of the apprehended person.
Under Indian laws, generally, confessions made to a police authority is not admissible as evidence unless it can be proven in court at a later stage. However under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, any confession made to an authorised officer (holding positions of Assistant Conservator of Forests and above) is admissible as evidence, as long as it is recorded in the presence of the accused (Section 50(9) of the WPA). The recorded confession must be signed by the authorised officer as well as the accused.
“The conviction of Sansar Chand is definitely a morale booster for all of us who have been working to conserve India’s natural heritage. However, complacency is something we cannot afford. The case took 15 years despite Sansar being caught red-handed with the skin. This scenario has to change for good,” said Ashok Kumar, Vice-chairman, WTI.