The administration will crack down on illegal sale of protected species of birds at this year's Sonepur fair, scheduled to be held from November 2 to December 3.
Saran district magistrate Harihar Prasad has written a letter to this effect to all the officials concerned and asked them to strictly abide with the directive. The decision has been taken in view of rampant illegal sale of birds at the fair.
"I got a letter from officials of the state forest department as well as from the Union environment and forest ministry to stop the practice of illegal bird trade that goes on unhindered at the annual Sonepur fair. A letter was also written by Saran commissioner Narmadeshwar Lal to end the illegal trade. I have instructed the officials concerned not to allow the chiriya bazar (bird market) to function this year at Sonepur," Prasad told The Telegraph.
The matter of illegal sale of birds is also pending before Patna High Court, where a petition has been filed by the Federation of Animal Protection Organisation seeking a legal directive to end the trade.
Prasad said that if any directive is passed by the court, the administration would adhere to the decision. The state government has already constituted a committee to look after the issue.
In December 2016, senior IPS officer Amitabh Kumar Das had blown the whistle on the illegal sale of protected birds at the Sonepur fair. Das had written a letter to Saran police superintendent Pankaj Kumar Raj, asking him to take action against traders selling protected birds at the fair. Das had said that though sale of such birds is prohibited under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, the trade goes on uninterrupted at the chiriya bazaar.
Raj, under whose watch the fair is being held, had then directed the station house officer concerned to take action against those involved in illegal trade of rare birds.
Animal traders flout the ban with impunity. Just outside the fair premises, the state forest department puts up hoardings regarding ban on sale of rare birds, but nobody really bothers about it. The bird traders ensure that they keep away from the fair on the inauguration day so that the authorities can inspect the market and certify that it is free of illegal wildlife trade.
Protected birds that are sold are owls, shikras, black shouldered kites, peregrine falcons, munias, hill mynas, bank mynas and green pigeons. Sources said there is nothing visibly, or even possibly invisibly, done by the enforcement agencies or administration to ensure that the highly protected wildlife is not traded at Sonepur. "I have never heard of any cases of wildlife being confiscated and I wonder how traders bring in thousands of birds in hundreds of cages and go unnoticed by the authorities. The main provider of indigenous birds to the Sonepur fair is the Nakhas Market located in Lucknow and the Mir Shikar Toli in Patna," said a trader, not connected with wildlife or bird trade, who is a regular at the fair.
A 2014 report by the Wildlife Trust of India had also flagged the issue of sale of unprotected exotic birds. The report had claimed that animals were stuffed into small cages and displayed publicly at the fair.