Odisha forest officials expose pan-India elephant smuggling racket (India)
The New Indian Express
June 19, 2022
BHUBANESWAR: In what could be of huge ramification, the Forest department
of Odisha has blown the lid off a pan-India illegal elephant trafficking
racket which attempted to use forged no-objection certificates (NOCs) to
smuggle captive jumbos through the State to Gujarat.
The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife
Warden (CWLW) have alerted their counterparts in other states and the
Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) so that applications relating to the
transportation of elephants and their movement across the country can be
The matter assumes significance in view of a proposed amendment by the
Centre to the Wildlife Protection Act (WLPA) which seeks to commercialise
the Schedule - I species.
There already exists a huge nexus between the capture of wild elephants and
their demand by temples, religious institutions and even political parties.
The Ill-treatment of the gentle giants is another grim story.
At least, eight such cases have come to the fore last month. The CWLW of
Odisha found racketeers tried to fake NOCs by using forged signatures. In
all cases, the attempt was to allegedly smuggle elephants from Assam. Seven
of these cases saw bids made to transport elephants to Gujarat’s Jamnagar
for a temple trust, reliable sources told The New Indian Express.
The first case related to the trafficking of a jumbo to Odisha from Assam.
Interestingly, the CWLW office in the State had earlier received an
application for transportation of a captive jumbo from the Northeastern
state to the Koraput district. Upon verification by the divisional forest
officer, it was found that the requisites were not met and the application
When a fake NOC reached the Assam CWLW, it sought clarification from its
Odisha counterpart and the first case was detected. However, the CWLW
office was perplexed when it received queries from its Gujarat counterpart
about seven NOCs allegedly issued by the former for the transportation of
All the seven NOCs were identical - from applicant to destination. Only the
description of the jumbos was different. The applicant purportedly was one
Mukeswar Konwar from the Sivasagar district. In all, the signatures were
reportedly forged to generate the NOCs.
Suspecting a racket, the Odisha CWLW office shot off a letter to all states
as well as WCCB: “It seems that a big racket is operating in illegal
trafficking. As this illegal operation is having inter-state ramifications,
it is requested to examine the matter and issue an advisory from the
Ministry to all CWLWs to closely scrutinize all the cases/applications of
transportation of elephants and to check the authenticity of the documents
relating to such transfers from the issuing authorities/states.”
Experts point out that an “anomalous” Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which
allows private ownership of Asian Elephants - a Schedule-I animal - already
encourages trafficking and smuggling. “Smuggling thrives in the Northeast
and Bihar, where elephants once captive but left to be feral become easy
targets,” said a senior officer.
The concerns related to elephant ownership and transportation became a
raging controversy last year when the Centre placed an amendment to
Wildlife Protection Act in the Parliament proposing the commercialisation
of the Schedule-I animal. The Wildlife Protection (Amendment) Bill 2021 was
then sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and
Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change chaired by former Union
Minister Jairam Ramesh.
Prerna Singh Bindra, noted conservationist and former member of the
National Board for Wildlife, had submitted a memorandum to the panel
expressing strong reservations on the amendment.“Earlier, the WLPA
explicitly disallowed commercial transactions of animals protected under
Schedule-I and II. In the proposed Bill, live captive elephants have been
excluded from this general prohibition, leaving a gaping loophole for their
commercial sale and purchase. It presents the elephant, a protected wild
animal, as a tradable commodity; and is, therefore, at odds with the
objective, and the spirit of The Wildlife (Protection) Act. This is a
serious anomaly in the law that must be corrected,” she pointed out in her
Elephants, already facing heat from poachers and illegal traders for ivory,
skin and even meat, are likely to face more stress as sourcing may go into
a grey area if the proposed amendment goes through.
“One worry is that this resurgence of transferring elephants countrywide
may reopen old trade networks and the passing of illegal trade under the
guise of legal trade. Besides, there is the welfare question of ferrying
around and keeping social, sentient, intelligent animals like elephants
under captivity that seems not to have been considered at all,” she said.