Indiscriminate hunting of wild animals “is as heinous and culpable a crime as the offence of murder”, a Calcutta High Court bench has said.
In a judgment on February 20, the division bench of Justice Arijit Banerjee and Justice Apurba Sinha Ray said “senseless killing of animals in the wild for pleasure and in purported show of false prowess is, in our opinion, as heinous and culpable a crime as the offence of murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code”.
The judgment came on a contempt petition filed against the chief wildlife warden of the state for failing to comply with an earlier high court directive — on April 18, 2019 — that had put a complete embargo on hunting festivals in the districts of south Bengal.
The contempt petition was filed in May 2022 by an NGO called Human and Environment Alliance League (HEAL). The petition alleged that hunting festivals continued unabated in violation of the 2019 order.
In the order, the court cited the Wildlife Protection Act and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
Siddhartha Mitra, counsel for the petitioners, said: “The court clearly said no person, whether a tribal or a non-tribal, had the liberty to hunt down animals.”
The division bench proposed a panel to “ensure implementation” of the 2019 order and take steps “to see that the animals are not killed indiscriminately whether during hunting festivals or otherwise”.
The panel, which the bench called the “Humane Committee”, will be formed for five districts — West Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia, Jhargram and Murshidabad.
The committee for each district will be headed by a district judge who is chairperson of the district legal services authority. The district magistrate and the police superintendent concerned will be part of the panel.
A city-based conservationist will be part of the panel for each district.
A person from the tribal community to be nominated by the district judge in consultation with other members of the committee and the relevant divisional security commissioner of the Railway Protection Force will also be on each panel.
The hunters often travel by trains in large groups with spears and other weapons.
“The order is significant because a district-level judge will head the panel and a member of the civil society will be its part. This is rare. Usually, the court asks the government to set up the panel. Such panels often lack teeth,” said Meghna Banerjee of HEAL.
“This judicial decision gives us an opportunity to play an active role in mitigating threats to threatened wildlife. We can share our experience and help the state curb hunting. The ultimate goal is to raise appreciation, tolerance and empathy for our wild heritage, which is in crisis today,” said Tiasa Adhya, the conservationist who will be member of the Humane Committee of each of the five districts.
The court endorsed “certain measures which the committee may take”. The measures, suggested by the petitioner, focus on “year-round pre-emptive measures against ritual hunting”.
Every year, many animals and birds — fishing cat, palm civet, jungle cat, monitor lizard, pangolin and golden jackal, among others — are slaughtered on several hunting festival days according to the lunar calendar.
The February 20 order directed the committee to hold a preliminary meeting as soon as possible, preferably within two weeks, and place a report before the high court on the intended measures.
“We are keeping this contempt application pending as we intend to supervise and keep track of how the committee is functioning and also for the purpose of passing further orders as may be necessary for effective implementation of the judgment and order dated April 18, 2019,” the bench said.
Debal Ray, chief wildlife warden of Bengal, said: “We will do everything in our capacity to help in implementing the order.”