India's tigers face new threat as lethal poacher could soon walk free

by Ragini Shree

The removal of Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) charges against 58-year-old Sansar Chand, notorious poacher and wildlife smuggler, by a Delhi court has not only paved way for his early release but has also raised worries of wildlife activists and conservationists.

The court has refused to charge Chand under MCOCA on technical grounds stating that it was filed as a supplementary charge.

Belonging to the Gihara tribe of Thanagazi area of Alwar district, Chand is accused of being responsible for the elimination of more than 200 tigers and thousands of other wildlife species including endangered species from several states.

He has been behind bars since 2005 when the Delhi police arrested him. However, due to shoddy investigations and lack of evidence in most of cases he is likely to walk out of the jail soon. And this is what has sent wildlife conservationists in tizzy.

"Presently Corbett national park in Uttarakhand and Ranthambhore national park in Rajasthan are facing poaching threats. A number of tigers have been killed in Corbett while more than ten tigers are missing from Ranthambhore. Chand is believed to be carrying out his activities from inside the jail. Threat would increase once he comes out of the jail" said Rajasthan's additional government counsel for forest and wildlife Mahendra Kachhawa.

 Indias tigers face new threat as lethal poacher could soon walk free

Representational image: Reuters

The man held responsible for wiping out all tigers from Sariska tiger reserve in the Alwar district of Rajasthan faces about 21 cases under the Wildlife Protection Act in seven states and is named in 57 cases involving family members. In many of these cases he has secured bail and the in rest of the cases charges were dropped against him in the absence of evidence. Two other alleged poachers who were arrested along with Chand secured bails and are out of the jail.

His notoriety in poaching and wildlife smuggling grew to such an extent that he earned the acronym of 'Veerapan of North'. Equipped with a cunning mind, Chand kept the police of seven states on toes for many years before landing in the trap of Delhi police in 2005.

Even though Chand is lodged in Jaipur central jail, his family members are supposed to be carrying out smuggling activities. Before Chand's arrest, the Jaipur police had arrested his first wife Rani and son Akash in October 2004. They later got out on bail, and are at large now.

"It is learnt his family members are carrying out his activities in a diverted form. They have changed routes and modus operandi now" asserts Sunayan Sharma, president of Sariska tiger foundation.

Chand, who was initiated into poaching and smuggling by his grandfather Pannalal at the age of 12, had married his first wife Rani in 1978 when he was 20. Soon, Chand took over reigns of family's "traditional business" and developed a strong network of suppliers and buyers. In 2003, Chand divorced Rani and married Nirmala George but Rani still continues to be his business partner, believe the police and forest officials associated with investigations against Chand.

"He is a hardcore criminal and an expert in tiger and leopard poaching. His coming out of jail would mean a boost for wildlife smuggling. Chand has a vast network of poachers and clients. He is well acquainted with weaknesses in the forest system. It would be tough to contain him once he is out" feels Sharma, who served in Sariska as Assistant conservator of forest before retiring.

Sharma believes shortage of manpower is plaguing the tiger reserves at the ground level. The tiger reserves are being manned by forest guards and unskilled employees, he says.

Sharma, who had a chance to interrogate Chand in 2010, says the ruthless man had seen the world of smuggling from the tender age of 10, which influenced his later activities. "It is true that more than 25 tigers in Sariska were wiped out due to Chand's activities. Even now the reserve is not safe from poachers" says Sharma.

Chand was also booked in a wildlife crime case at Manak Chowk police station of Jaipur. The police had got him on a production warrant in 2005 for questioning when Chand revealed that no tigers were left in Sariska. "The police recovered two tiger skins from Sansar Chand in 2005 and he is facing trial in that case. During interrogation he revealed that no tigers were left in Sariska" investigating officer in Jaipur case Vidya Prakash told the media.

The Jaipur police had on 17 October, 2004 arrested Chand's aide EP Singh of Karnataka and recovered a huge cache of body parts of wild animals. After Singh's interrogation, the police reached Chand's Delhi residence and arrested his wife Rani and son Akash on 18 October, 2004. Singh had told the police he got material from Sansar Chand to supply it further. Chand had escaped the police but he was named in the charge sheet.

Chand's father Munni Lal lived at Gali Ghera of Sadar Bazaar in Delhi from where he operated smuggling activities along with his younger brother Prem Lal. He faced his first case in 1974 but was released after a minor jail term and penalty. Chand was later convicted and sentenced to five years rigorous imprisonment in 2004 in a case dating back to 6 January, 2003 when he was caught red handed in a train with two leopard skins.

The Bhilwara police in Rajasthan had registered a case but he secured bail and went underground.

Now, he and family members are facing more than 57 cases in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. Over the years Chand has amassed huge property with money earned from poaching and smuggling. He has more than 40 properties in old Delhi alone.

Majnu-ka-Tila in North Delhi was once favourite hub of Chand and his associates from where they operated their trade now spread in China, Nepal, Tibet and even Bangkok. However, of late the gang has changed its location and modus operandi but Chand remains at the helm of affairs even from behind the bars.

Updated Date: Jul 18, 2013 14:56:03 IST