Some of the rare birds seized on Sunday. (Amit Datta)
Nearly 200 endangered birds were seized by forest department officials on Sunday morning while they were being taken to a market on Galiff Street in north Calcutta for sale.
Among the birds seized — valued at more than Rs 3 lakh — were 151 munias and 21 parakeets.
Three men — Mohammad Osman, Mohammad Sulaiman and Mohammad Saheb — were arrested while they were allegedly transporting the birds from a hideout in Rajabazar to Galiff Street. Saheb was allegedly driving the taxi in which the birds were being carried.
“The birds that have been rescued and will be released soon are found in north Bengal, Bihar and the foothills of the Himalayas,” said an official of the forest department’s wildlife wing, who was in the team that seized the birds.
Munia and parakeet are listed endangered under Schedule 2 of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act. Hunting or trading in Schedule II birds or animals is banned. If proved guilty, the arrested trio can be jailed for up to seven years.
“Those who have been arrested are habitual offenders and kingpins of a racket,” said Pradip Vyas, the additional principal chief conservator of forests, wildlife.
Osman, Sulaiman and Saheb were rounded up around 6.45am, soon after they set off for the market. “In the past, whenever we raided the market, smugglers would get away while their associates would attack our officials. To avoid that, we intercepted the vehicle midway,” said an official.
An official of the wildlife wing said endangered birds are often smuggled into the state from Bihar. The smugglers get off trains with the birds at Burdwan because of the “tight vigil” at Howarh and Sealdah stations.
“From Burdwan they bring the birds to Calcutta by road. In the city, smuggled birds are usually kept in hideouts around Galiff Street,” the official said.
The Galiff Street market is held every Sunday. Birds account for almost 75 per cent of the sale, though domestic animals, rabbits, and ornamental fish are also sold there.