By Raman Kirpal
TWO HUNDRED and fifty tigers, 2,000 leopards, 5,000 otters, 20,000 wild cats, 20,000 wild foxes — and still counting. That’s the number of wild animals that law enforcers have been able to count as falling prey to the deadly trade plied by Sansar Chand, 55, dubbed the Veerappan of the North, in the four decades since he took to a life of crime. He himself says they are “uncountable” and betrays no remorse about this mayhem.
The incorrigible poacher and his partners in crime, at least five of them family members, have been apprehended in as many as 57 cases in a bid to link him to seizure of large caches of animal parts. But thanks to shoddy investigations, apathy of State authorities, possible bribery of witnesses and weak laws, Sansar Chand has so far been acquitted in 10 cases and convicted only in one. Seven cases are still pending (see box). Right now he is lodged in Jaipur central jail, but is looking forward to freedom after serving a five-year term.
The sustained cruelty to animals — caught in iron traps, clubbed to death and then skinned — has brought rich dividends. Over the years, Sansar Chand amassed 45 properties, some of them covering an entire lane in Delhi’s Sadar Bazar. A conservative estimate puts their cost at Rs 40 crore, but the present market value would be much more. He claims he has no bank account, but the rent from the shops and flats alone will keep him comfortable, should he walk free.
Sealing of these properties is not within the purview of the Indian Wildlife (Prevention) Act, 1972, under which the cases are being tried. He has also been dragged into the stranglehold of the more stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), 1999, but is trying to wriggle out on the technical ground that it can only be evoked for repeat offenders with more than two convictions.
Such convictions have mostly eluded the authorities. For instance, a case was registered against both the poacher and his mother Manuka Devi on 23 February 1990 after a raid at the ancestral home that yielded a tiger skin, 17 leopard skins, 74 other skins and 30 kg of tiger bones. He submitted a ration card as proof that he lived at another address. Further, only one witness out of seven present at the time of the raid testified that he saw Sansar Chand escaping from the terrace at the time of the seizure. Manuka Devi died during the trial and Chand was subsequently discharged on 3 March 2008.
The sustained cruelty to animals brought rich dividends. Over the years, Sansar Chand bought 45 properties and put them on rent
In another case typical of the slow judicial process, the police were told that a large consignment of six tiger skins, 26 tiger cub skins and 43 leopard skins was on its way to Sansar Chand in Delhi. Acting on a tipoff, the police caught Pema Thinley and his associate Mohammad Yakub on 30 August 1993 in possession of the skins but not, as they should have, in the act of handing them over to Sansar Chand. Over 17 long years that the case wound its way through the court, the latter’s statement was not even recorded. Finally, the court had no choice but to discharge him in March this year for lack of evidence.
A really strong case could be made out against Sansar Chand only on January 6, 2003, when he was caught redhanded in a train compartment with two leopard skins. The Bhilwara Police registered a case, and managed to get a conviction in 14 months — a major breakthrough as his guilt had never been established before. Even after conviction, he skipped bail and could be apprehended by Delhi Police only after a few months, on 30 June 2005.
In 2009, his lawyer Siddharth Luthra’s appeal against this conviction was heard by the Supreme Court. This could have been his ticket to freedom, because no one appeared in court from the Rajasthan government despite three notices. The apex court had no choice but to grant an ex parte stay (a ruling given when the other side is absent) and fixed 5 July this year for the next hearing. Fortunately, officials of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and an NGO got a whiff of this. They approached Additional Advocate General of Rajasthan, Manish Singhvi, in Delhi’s Bikaner House. Singhvi agreed to appear on behalf of the Rajasthan government provided it directed him to do so in writing.
It was touch and go, for only on the morning of 5 July did Singhvi get the orders from the state government and make the crucial appearance in court that saved the day for the law enforcement agencies. For, if Sansar Chand is convicted in any other case while still in jail, the stringent MCOCA will ensure that the chances of his walking free are dim.
IT IS this coordinated action by various stakeholders — police, lawyers and NGOs — that has been tightening the noose around Sansar Chand in the last three years. For in 2007, the police and law enforcement agencies, including the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, decided to hold a full-fledged co-odination meeting once a year to share notes. This helps them keep track of not only the 21 cases against Sansar Chand himself, but the 57 cases involving his wife, son, daughter, brothers and other relatives. These are spread over Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and even Karnataka. The last co-ordination meeting was held on 12 February.
In 38 years, the prosecution has failed to secure the maximum sentence of seven years jail against any offender under the Wildlife Act
Interestingly, the family is under the scanner due to suspicion that Sansar Chand runs the wildlife trade from jail. Former CBI ace investigator (and currently Commissioner of Police, Cuttack, Orissa) BK Sharma says: “We kept track of Sansar Chand when he was in Jaipur jail… His wife Rani, son Akash and even his daughter and brother Narain used to meet him regularly. We noted down the timings and number of meetings that had taken place in the Jaipur jail.”
Rani is actually his first wife, a Dehradun girl he married in 1978. Four years before that, when he was just 16 years of age, he had been initiated by his grandfather Pannalal into what was the family business. The wildlife department raided their home and recovered skin of a tiger, 567 lizards, 85 otters and a red panda. He was convicted but released under probation since he was a juvenile. It was a time when poachers were generally let off with small fines.
One more conviction and fine as a juvenile on 21 November 1974 forced him to take up menial work, as his father had died. He worked as a domestic help at Kishan Rajani’s house located near Regal building in Connaught Place. Rajani’s sister Dr Chandrakanta started treating him like a family member. But Rajani’s brothers were involved in the trade of snake and turtle skin and the boy who never went to school learnt new tricks for making a living. He had already learnt how to set iron traps for tigers and leopards from Bawaria hunters — one of 200-odd nomadic tribes in India — of Ludhiana and Samalkha areas who visited the family.
One of the four children Sansar Chand had with Rani, Akash, began to help him with a business that seemed to carry little risk. In 2003, he divorced Rani and married Nirmala George, with whom he had two children. But Sansar Chand continues to maintain a working relationship with Rani. In October 2004, when the Rajasthan Police arrested Rani and Akash, they also seized seven diaries and a mobile SIM card. These allegedly contain contact details of wildlife inspectors in Delhi, a senior local politician and the usual suspects: dealers and poachers. Records were found of sale of skins worth Rs 1.38 crore.
BEING CAUGHT repeatedly did not deter any of them. Two years later, when Sansar Chand’s wife and son were out on bail, they were engaged in the same business. At this point of time, they are absconding. But Sansar Chand’s brother Narain, who was allegedly keeping the trade alive since 2005, was caught as recently as 30 January 2009 negotiating for skins at Hubli, Karnataka. During interrogation, he also revealed that he had purchased tiger and leopard skins at Haldwani, Uttarakhand. The net is still spread far and wide, and the poaching trade is alive and kicking.
But if legal cases fell through the cracks with alarming regularity in the past, measures are being put in place that might prevent this happening in future. In 2007, the environment ministry created the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau on the lines of the Narcotics Control Bureau, but it is not an enforcement agency like the latter. It can search, seize and summon people, but lacks a forensic lab or research wing. A member of its advisory group, Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Upadhyay, who successfully prevented the granting of bail in a case of poaching registered in Haridwar has an explanation. “Wildlife inspectors and state police are not even capable of differentiating between cow and tiger bones,” he says. “They don’t even know that the moth is a Scheduled animal!”
A bit of scientific training would go a long way in implicating Sansar Chand, because in the three cases in which he was actually caught with animal parts, the police have not submitted a single forensic report establishing that the bones he possessed are of the tiger. If his lawyers take the line that the bones were those of cows, a conviction would be difficult.
If there had been dedicated and sustained tracking over the years, several people could have been nailed to break the nexus that takes animal parts all the way to China, because plenty of names have been thrown up during investigations. Since the early 1980s, traders like Choudhary Masood and Ramzan, former nawab of Satna Anwar Hussain, Khalique Hussain, Riazul Hussain (Khalique’s brother) and Alimuddin of Jhansi have been active.
Rajani and his family may have left the country, but Delhi is still the hub of the pernicious trade, with the Majnu-ka- Tila locality as the pivot. Till 1996, when he was alive, the biggest source of animal skins was Lalji Bawaria based in Samalkha near Panipat. Sansar Chand has also named contacts with hunters and suppliers in forests of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.
THE CBI has been told that Delhi is the collection point for skin and other animal products that cater to the huge demands of markets in Tibet and China. Most of these persons are Nepalese or Tibetans and they operate from Majnu-ka-Tila in north Delhi, also known as a place for Tibetan refugees in India.
Sansar Chand, in his CBI interrogation report, revealed that his buyers at Majnu-ka-Tila were Paima Limi, K Sonam, Kana alias Chiwing, Chittar, Tensing Lima, Ashraf, Ghulam Gani, Bashir Ahmed and Rishi. His supply used to come from poachers like Jassu, Chatru, Mahavir, Surajiya, Balbir and Raja. Prices were determined by size, length, colour and damage marks, if any, on the skins.
Chand was caught for the first time in 1974, when he was just 16. He was released under probation as he was a juvenile delinquent
“Sansar Chand traded a tiger skin for no less than Rs 90,000. He used to sell leopard skin for Rs 17,000–18,000. In other skins such as of otter, wild cat and even deer, the profit margins varied from time to time. At present, a tiger skin and skeleton would go for Rs 3–3.5 lakh.
The lucrative trade seems to have gained momentum as more and more acquittals took place due to lack of evidence. Take the case in which the wildlife department had seized a leopard skin from Sansar Chand’s home on 17 July 1995. An independent witness signed the seizure document. Charges were framed and the trial began. The prosecution witness gave oral and written statements against Sansar Chand in a Delhi court. Arguments from both sides were heard. 9 April 2010 was fixed as Judgment Day, but had to be deferred three times. Suddenly, on 26 June, Sansar Chand’s lawyers announced that the prosecution witness had turned hostile. The whole basis of the prosecution’s case was uprooted. Next date for hearing: 4 August.
Delhi is the collection point for skin and other animal products that cater to the huge demands of markets in Tibet and China
Meanwhile, efforts are on to crack the whole network, with the arrest of seven operators from Nagpur and Delhi. One Tashi Tenzing, who goes under the aliases Tashi Tshering, Babu, Prem Singh and Ram Singh, was arrested in November 2009. This contact at Majnuka- Tila seems to be the main accomplice — or maybe mastermind, for he claims that he is the one who made Sansar Chand such a big name.
But the international dimensions of the illegal business — till now a medieval trade carried on through ancient trade routes — is now changing. Instead of carrying contraband on public transport, smugglers book parcels to Guwahati on trains. From there, the animal parts would go on the Dimapur route to Imphal (Nagaland), through Moreh (Manipur) and then to China via Myanmar.
Slowly, things are changing, both in the trade and in the strategies of law enforcers. The flatfooted approach of forest officials and police detectives will be even more ineffective than it was in the past. There are other shadowy figures waiting to fill Sansar Chand’s shoes using modern weapons for trapping and killing and better communication systems for logistics. Hopefully, the next generation will not have to answer the question: Who is the king of the jungle: the tiger or the poacher?
7 CASES STILL PENDING
DELHI, 26 NOVEMBER 1975 Seizure of 31 uncured leopard skins, four uncured tiger skins, one mounted tiger skin, 43 uncured skins of other animals, two pythons, four leopard cats, one spotted deer, one uncured skin of Indian gazelle
STATUS: Case under trial
HARIDWAR, 5 JULY 1995
Seizure of one leopard skin at Shyampur Range, Haridwar,Uttarakhand
STATUS: Case ready for framing of charges
DELHI, 17 JULY 1995 Seizure of one leopard skin
STATUS: Case under trial
JAIPUR, 17 OCTOBER 2004
Seizure of 19 leopard claws and paws at Manakchowk, Jaipur, Rajasthan
STATUS: Case under trial
SARISKA, 18 JANUARY 2005
Seizure of tiger and leopard skins and bones at Sariska Tiger Reserve
STATUS: Case under trial
DELHI, 31 JANUARY 2005
Huge seizure of skins of two tigers, 38 leopards, one snow leopard, 42 skins of other animals, 10 tiger and/or leopard jaws, 14 tiger and/or leopard canines, 60 kg of tiger and/or leopard paws, 20 pieces of tiger and/or leopard bones, 3 kg of tiger and/or leopard claws, 135 kg of porcupine quills at Kamla Market, Delhi.
STATUS: Case under trial
PANCHKULA, 9 JUNE 2005
Seizure of three leopard skins at Chandi Mandir, Panchkula, Haryana
STATUS: Case under trial
45 PROPERTIES AMASSED
Most of his Delhi properties are in the name of his first wife Rani Saini, son Akash, daughter Seema and other relatives. Sansar Chand says he has no bank accounts. The poacher has hired Siddharth Luthra, who is rated as one of the 10 best criminal lawyers in India, to defend him
Houses in Sadar Bazar, Nos: 1068, 1098, 1114, 1154, 1155, 1156, 1158, 1159, 1163, 1166, 1167, 1168, 1172, 1173, 1178, 1184, 1187, 2001, 2081, 2100, 2101, 2121 and 2191 (all in Sadar Nala Road); 2201 (in Basti Harphool)
Houses in Basti Jullahan, Nos: 2295 and 2296
House in Motia Khan, No: 1098
House in Karol Bagh: On the rooftop of Madanlal Halwai (purchased jointly with Rasgullah Wallah who owns a shop opposite the entrance to Filmistan)
Shops in Sadar Bazar, Nos: 1154, 1157, 1160, 1161, 1250, 1251, 1254, 1258, 1259, 1260 and 2099 (all in Sadar Nala Road)
Shops in Azad Market, Nos: 1067, 1255, 1256 and 1257
Unidentified location: A building (Chand does not remember the exact address) in Basti Jullahan. It’s a two-storey building that has been rented out. There is one shop on the ground floor, which has been leased out House in Dehradun: Near Jain Dharamshala
11 HOW HE GETS AWAY
DELHI, 26 NOVEMBER 1975
Seizure of skins of 35 leopards, five tigers, 43 other animals, two pythons, one spotted deer, one Indian gazelle
STATUS: Acquitted on 28 August 1986. Since he had not been caught red-handed with the haul, the police case was weak
DELHI, 9 JANUARY 1976
Seizure of uncured skin of three fishing cats
STATUS: Acquitted on 7 March 1981. Police again had not caught him in possession of the skins at the time of seizure
DELHI, 24 MARCH 1988
Seizure of skin of 1,998 jackals, 1,004 jungle cats, 30 common foxes, 50 red foxes, 45 toddy cats, 25,800 snakes, five red foxes, 19 desert cats, one tiger, five leopards, one wolf, 180 wet jackals, 27 common foxes
STATUS: Discharged on 3 March 2008. All the accused had named Sansar Chand as the end-receiver, but the public prosecutor could not prove his connection to the house on which the raid was conducted
DELHI, 23 FEBRUARY 1990
Seizure of skin of one tiger, 17 leopards, 74 other animals and 30 kg of tiger bones
STATUS: Discharged on 3 March 2008. Court says skins may belong to Sansar Chand’s mother Manuka Devi. The seizure was from his ancestral house. Manaka had died during the trial. So Sansar got benefit of doubt
DELHI, 27 OCTOBER 1992
Seizure of skin of 31 leopards, one tiger, one tiger cub, five crocodiles, eight jackals, one wild hare and 35 mongoose.
STATUS: Discharged on 23 April 2008. Police could not catch Sansar with skins
RANTHAMBORE (RAJASTHAN), 23 JUNE 1992
Seizure of one tiger and one tiger skeleton (full)
STATUS: Initially granted bail and then acquitted on same grounds as above
DELHI, 30 AUGUST 1993
Seizure of six leopard skins and 14 others
STATUS: According to the Wildlife Department, Sansar Chand’s name was wrongly added to this case
DELHI, 30 AUGUST 1993
Seizure of skin of 43 leopards, six tigers, 26 tiger cubs, six black buck, three fishing cat, two leopard cats, three clouded leopards, three lizards, two civet cats, three hill foxes, three leopard claws, five jungle cats, one jackal, one cheetal, 134 other animals, 4,681 kg of sheep wool and 287 kg of tiger bones.
STATUS: Discharged in March 2010 for lack of evidence
SAHARANPUR (UP), 29 JUNE 1995
Seizure of two leopard skins and 8 kg of leopard bones
STATUS: Not named in the FIR despite the statements of other accused
DELHI, 28 MARCH 1999
Seizure of one tiger skin, seven others and five traps.
STATUS: Bhagwan Das and Chatru convicted on 10 April 2001. Sansar Chand acquitted as above
BHILWARA (RAJASTHAN) 6 JANUARY 2003
Seizure of two leopard skins
STATUS: Convicted to 5 years imprisonment on April 29 2004. Apex court gave ex parte stay against his conviction and granted bail