Thursday, July 31, 2008

Czech 'insect thieves' granted 'interim' bail

Crime Reporter
The two Czech nationals arrested for wildlife offence near Darjeeling on June 22, have been granted 'interim' bail till August 12 by the court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, UK Nandi. However, as requested by the prosecution, the court has set several conditions to prevent them from leaving India.

The two foreigners, Petr Svacha and Emil Kucera were arrested for illegally collecting rare insects in Singhalila National Park, violating Indian wildlife laws. About 500 live and preserved insects were seized from their hotel room in Shrikhola near Darjeeling. Among their collection, which was sent to the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) for identification, the forest officials in Darjeeling had identified Delias sanaca, a butterfly listed under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act.

The prosecution had, during earlier hearings, requested denial of their bail on grounds that the accused could possibly jump it to avoid the proceedings against them.

Saurabh Sharma, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) advocate, who is assisting the prosecution, said, "We were hoping that they would not be granted bail. Alternatively, if granted, we had pleaded for a 'conditional' bail to prevent them from escaping. On several occasions, foreigners who have committed crimes in India have managed to escape conviction by jumping bail."

Addressing the concerns of the prosecution, the court set several conditions on the bail to restrict their movement. According to the court, the accused will have to deposit their passports with the Inquiry Officer and will have to take prior permission from the court for leaving Darjeeling Sub-division. They will also have to report to the Police Inspector In-charge of Darjeeling Sadar, twice-a-week. Additionally, the accused will have to submit two surety bonds of Rs 1500 and a personal bond of Rs 3000 each. They have also been warned not to interfere in the investigations against them.

The accused had, during the time of their arrest, pleaded that they were collecting the insects for research purposes and that they were unaware of the Indian laws. However, post-arrest investigation had revealed that Kucera, a forester, was involved in the trade of insects. They were also found to have violated other administrative procedures, as required by the local laws.

Utpal Kumar Nag, ADFO, Wildlife Division-1, who had led the arrest a month ago, said, "This is just an interim bail and they have been confined to Darjeeling. So, it is not likely to be able to hurt the case."

"The ZSI has given a preliminary report; the insects have not yet been classified to the species level. However, the authorities in ZSI suspect that the collection has certain species listed under Schedule I and Schedule II Part II," Nag added.

Ashok Kumar, vice-chairman, WTI, said, "An interim bail is different from a normal bail, in that, it can be withdrawn easily without any hearing, if they are found to have tried anything against the conditions set by the court. A full bail, on the other hand, has to undergo a lengthy process for cancellation."

"The case has been quite highly publicised because of the profiles of the accused. This was a good thing, because if this had not happened, they could have easily camouflaged themselves among other foreign tourists and escaped to Nepal through the porous borders. But, because of the publicity, escape attempts may prove to be more difficult as they are easily identifiable now," he added.


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