Interview with Praveen Bhargav, Wildlife First, Former Member – National Board for Wildlife Bangalore.

  1. What is your reaction to the bail of a convicted wildlife offender – Salman Khan?

More worrisome than the granting of bail is the abhorrent reaction of some famous Bollywood stars and public personalities not to mention his fans openly celebrating his release on bail. Where is our society headed?

  1. Your comments please about the fact that a convicted wildlife criminal is getting bail and getting away with his the crime of a blood sport…

No, he has not gotten away with his crime. He has been convicted albeit after twenty long years. Notwithstanding the bravado, he will indeed be a very worried man now.

  1. What is the legal solution to bail for a convicted person?

It is vitally important for the prosecution to now ensure that his appeal is disposed off in the shortest possible time by not allowing his defence lawyers to delay the process. In my view this case is headed for multiple appeals right up to the last legal option in our system which is a Curative petition.

  1. Your comments about such precedents in Bollywood by other actors?

This is not the first time that Bollywood has closed ranks to back a convicted actor. And this certainly will not be the last either. It is time for them to introspect on their – “we are above the law”- attitude.

5. Your comment on the role of the media in the bail of Salman Khan after his recent conviction please. Do you think the media highlighted more, the amount of money riding on him in upcoming films that was at stake than his wildlife crimes? Bollywood too is after all part of the global Mediascape.

This only shows how a person with strong PR machinery can influence certain sections of the media to project what s(he) wants. I was surprised that not one news story countered this specious ‘money riding on him’ charade by highlighting the plight of thousands of families whose only bread winner - a ordinary daily wager - gets convicted or incarcerated as an undertrial with no legal assistance even to bail?

6. What is your wish-list for effective legal remedy to this impasse?

i. A thorough crime review of all pending wildlife offence cases must be carried out by Chief Wildlife Wardens of States and high priority cases identified for investigation; ii. A competent Special Investigation Team (SIT) comprising Authorized Officers to take up and complete investigations of at-least identified high priority cases and file Complaints before the Magistrate must be established;

iii. Competent public prosecutors to be identified and deputed to the Forest department to exclusively handle such identified cases

iv. Establishment of a special fast track court / designated court at an appropriate location close to a large wildlife landscape (Eg.Nagarahole-Bandipur-BRT) to clear the huge backlog of cases.

7. Lastly what legal amendments will you call for, for effective war against poaching?

We do have a strong law [Wildlife Protection Act] to curb illegal hunting. The problem is with respect to implementation. A huge effort is required in training forest officials on investigation and provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Even as the battle to prosecute such offences continues in various court rooms, the most important challenge is to prevent hunting to the best extent possible. For this, the only mantra is ‘eternal vigilance’.

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