The high court has sought an ‘action taken report’ from the state’s chief wildlife warden on the steps taken to prevent ritualistic hunting festivals in the districts of Paschim Medinipur, Bankura, Jhargram and Purulia.
A high court order on April 18, 2019, put a complete embargo on hunting rituals in various districts of south-west Bengal. On March 21, 2021, in an order issued suo motu, the court iterated its stand, saying all such illegal activities had to be completely stopped, by exercising police power if needed.
The railway authorities were also asked to coordinate with the forest department. The alleged hunters often travel by trains in large groups, animal lovers said.
The latest order came on June 29 this year, when the court was hearing a contempt petition filed by an NGO, Human and Environment Alliance League (HEAL). The petition alleged that hunting festivals continued unabated in violation of the 2019 order.
The contempt petition has been filed against the chief wildlife warden, police superintendents and magistrates of the relevant districts and the general manager of South Eastern Railway, alleging “deliberate, willful, gross and contumacious violation and disobedience” of the earlier order of April 18, 2019.
“Let the respondent No.1 (chief wildlife warden) file an ‘Action Taken Report’ within four (4) weeks… detailing the number of complaints filed against ‘ritualistic hunters’… and arrests made during the ongoing hunt session…” a division bench of Justice Rai Chattopadhyay and Justice Arijit Banerjee said on June 29.
“The respondent No.11 (general manager of South Eastern Railway) shall file an affidavit dealing with the allegations against the Railways. This will also be done within four (4) weeks from date.”
Siddhartha Mitra, counsel for the petitioners, said: “The court clearly said the earlier order had not been followed in letter and spirit.”
Debal Ray, chief wildlife warden of Bengal, said he had received a copy of the order. “We will submit all details sought by the court. We are doing a lot of work to prevent hunting festivals and the numbers have come down substantially,” he said.
A spokesperson for South Eastern Railway said: “I am not aware of the details of the order. We will comply with whatever the court has said.”
Every year, ritualistic hunting happens over 50-55 days in Paschim Medinipur, Jhargram, Purulia and Bankura. The petitioners said April and May were the worst months.
The NGO had in May 2018 filed the first PIL against ritualistic hunting in Howrah and Purba Medinipur on the occasion of Falharini Kali Puja.
The high court passed an interim order on May 10, 2018, directing the district administrations and railways to work with the forest department to prevent destruction of wildlife in the garb of the festival.
On April 18, 2019, the interim order was confirmed by the court, while also passing a similar order for Bankura, Paschim Medinipir, Purulia and Jhargram.
The petitioners said all the agencies involved were proactive in preventing hunting in Howrah and Purba Medinipur.
“But the forest department and district administrations of Bankura, Paschim Medinipur and Jhargram have failed miserably to stop the hunting fests,” said Meghna Banerjee of HEAL.