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Czech scientist let off with fine - Associate sentenced to 3 years' imprisonment for wildlife crimes

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By OUR CORRESPONDENT in Darjeeling
  • Published 10.09.08
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Darjeeling, Sept. 10: Czech scientist Petr Svacha, accused of illegally collecting insects from Singalila National Park, was let off with a fine of Rs 20,000 today after the chief judicial magistrate of Darjeeling took note of his reputation as a renowned entomologist and said he was a “victim of circumstances”.

However, his associate Emil Kucera, a forest official in the Czech Republic, was sentenced to three years of simple imprisonment and told to pay a fine of Rs 60,000.

The CJM granted Kucera bail to allow him to file an appeal in the higher court.

The Czechs had been arrested from Srikhola, 90km from here on the fringes of the national park, on June 22. Bengal forest officials had seized beetles, butterflies and other insects from the foreigners, along with equipment.

The court had on September 8 found the Czech duo guilty of all the charges levelled against them by the forest department.

But today, the CJM, U.K. Nandi, said the court had taken note of the stature of Svacha as well as the needs of his field of study — he works in the Czech Academy of Sciences and studies insects — and considered him to be a “victim of circumstances”.

Svacha was asked to pay a fine of Rs 10,000 for committing crimes under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and an equal amount for the ones committed under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002.

The judge maintained that no such leniency could be shown towards Kucera and sentenced him to three years of simple imprisonment each for the crimes committed under the two acts.

The sentence on both counts will, however, run concurrently.

Kucera will also have to pay a fine of Rs 10,000 under the Wildlife Protection Act and Rs 50,000 under the Biological Diversity Act.

However, the court granted him bail under both the Acts for a surety of Rs 3,000 each.

“Bail has been granted to Kucera to allow him to appeal to a higher court (Darjeeling sessions’ court). It has to be confirmed by the sessions’ court after the appeal is filed,” said Taranga Pandit, one of the defence lawyers.

The filing period for an appeal against the judgment in a higher court is one month.

Kucera will not be able to leave Darjeeling district until the appeal is filed. Even after that, the higher court may reject his bail or restrict his movements.

The passport of Svacha, too, will remain in the court’s custody till that time, but he will be free to move anywhere in the country without it.

While Kucera refused comment, Svacha said: “I am not feeling good for Kucera. Although I can go away from Darjeeling for a month, I will stay with Kucera and try to help him out.”

The Czech ambassador, Hynek Kmonicek, who has been camping in Darjeeling for the past few days, said: “We respect the impartiality of the Indian judiciary. The sentences suggest that Svacha had collected beetles without proper documents and has been fined accordingly.”

Asked if the prosecution would appeal against the sentence in the higher court, assistant public prosecutor Govind Chhetri said: “We will wait for a copy of the sentence and the judgment. If we are not satisfied with them, we may go to the higher court.”