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Hunt for International Poachers Comes to a Decisive End

In one of the most satisfying convictions in a wildlife case in India, the Madhya Pradesh forest department led by IFS officer Ritesh Sirothia demolished a gang of international poachers which was indulging in illegal export of endangered species like rare turtles and pangolins.
Indian Masterminds Stories

In a heartening development which will rouse wildlife lovers and environmentalists, a court in Madhya Pradesh has awarded maximum punishment of seven years to members of a gang involved in poaching of turtles and pangolins. On the face of it, one may ask- what’s the big deal about it? But here is the reality: such is the snail-pace with which the prosecution and conviction of wildlife offenders take place in India, and this includes cases involving tigers, elephants and other big animals, that this judgment is bound to make forest officials all over India to sit up and take notice.

 India’s Wildlife Protection Act, promulgated in 1972, has provisions of stringent punishment for poachers and offenders. But the cases are rarely pursued with full vigor. Why, it took our forest authorities several years to put the noose on Sansar Chand, arguably India’s most notorious poacher.

So in that sense, the judgment pronounced by the Satna court in Madhya Pradesh is quite important and far-reaching in its implications. 

In the present case, the court announced seven years punishment and s five lakh fine to gang members of Murugesan aka Manivanan in turtle/pangolin poaching and illegal trade case. 

This exceptional judgement was made possible mainly due to the painstaking efforts of Madhya Pradesh’s forest department and Forest officer Ritesh Sirothia.

 Mr. Sirothia who is posted as the assistant conservator of forest and in-charge of Special Tiger Protection Force (MP) played key role in busting this gang which was involved in illegal trade of turtles globally. 

During a conversation with Indian Masterminds, the officers talked about the important developments, as well as interesting twist & turns, in securing conviction of the gang members.

It started in 2005 

The hunt to nab the gang started in December 2014, when the forest department of MP seized a large consignment of Pangolins near Gwalior. However, the main accused Nand Lal managed to escape. The team didn’t sit back but followed every lead to reach out to him. They subsequently raided the house of another accused, near Chambal river, and came across coloured photographs of different types of turtles. 

The gang was involved in illegal trade of various types of turtle globally

“By then we only knew about the illegal trading of tigers, leopards and pangolin. This was the first time when we got a lead about a gang which is actively involved in turtle trading. In September 2016, we got an intelligence report that the absconder is coming to a town near Chambal Sanctuary for turtle delivery. We couldn’t catch him but seized parts of turtles and gun. It was only in April 2017, when we were able to finally arrest him”, said Mr. Sirothia. 

The arrested man was a history sheeter and was earlier arrested in leopard poaching case at Ranthambore (in Rajasthan. During interrogation, he gave details of the modus-operandi of the entire gang involved in the turtle trading. 

Points out Mr Sirothia,“Turtle has mythological relevance so mostly it is popular for pet trading in south-east Asian countries. Besides this, they are used for cuisine and medicinal purposes also. The gang we busted was not only involved in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh but they also have networks in Bangkok, Dhaka and several European countries. Following the leads provided during their interrogationour team eventually arrested the poachers, traders and kingpin of the gang who is known as Murugesan aka Manivanan.’’

Operation from Singapore 

Manivanan aka Murugesean is the kingpin of the gang

Manivanan, the gang leader, was mainly operating from Singapore. It was difficult to arrest him. But then the team nabbed another key player in the gang named Mohammad Irfan on 25th January 2018. After that they got an information on Manivanan, that he was coming to India for a marriage ceremony. Mr Sirothia added, “It was nothing sort of a filmy drama. We detained him while he was about to attend the wedding on 30th Jan 2018 and brought him to Madhya Pradesh. During the search we got a list of species for door-to door delivery. The list also included red crowned roofed turtle which is an endangered species. Apart from this we also seized fake certificates for trading of species which is regulated by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)”. 

Manivanan was once arrested in Bangkok in 2012 for a wildlife related crime. The MP forest department also took help from the Interpol to issue red corner notice against him and a team went to Dhaka & Bangkok to collect further evidence and to execute warrants against him. 

To paraphrase an old saying, all bad things also come to an end.

Busting this whole gang and getting them maximum punishment is not a small achievement. This certainly is a feather in the cap of MP forest department, which is doing its best to safeguard the precious flora and fauna of the state.


Indian Masterminds Stories

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