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Rising ecological crimes, poaching pose challenges

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New Delhi, June 5 : With eco crimes like ivory smuggling, illegal logging and toxic waste touching record high of $258 billion globally, discovery of 40 dead tiger cubs in Thailand’s famed tiger temple and with more tigers poached in the first five months of 2016 in India than in the entire 2015, makes the “Fight Against Illegal Trade in Wildlife” a perfect theme for this World Environment Day on Sunday, June 5.

“The amount of money lost due to environmental crimes is 10,000 times greater than the amount of money spent by international agencies on combating it — just $20-30 million,” says a report by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Interpol.

“Go Wild for Life”, says this year’s theme — and the crime syndicate has already turned towards “the wild”. Eco criminals are flush with money, and the laws are not strong enough to stop such crimes.

According to forest officials and wildlife conservators who stand as the first barrier between poachers and wildlife traffickers, the demand as well as rates for animal parts and specimens has increased over last year.

“One kilogram of rare pangolin scales would fetch a poacher around Rs 9,000-10,000 till last December; now it fetches them between Rs.18,000-20,000,” Vikram Singh Parihar, a forest officer of Madhya Pradesh, told IANS.

India in April this year hosted the ‘Third Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation’, which failed to set a stronger mandate before the world to protect the endangered species. India, at the same time, also failed to focus on other species, many of which are on the verge of extinction.

According to wildlife experts, pangolin, sea-horse, sea urchin, North Ring and Red Crown turtles, ghariyal, Gangetic sharks, Fishing Cat and Clouded Leopard are some of the species which might go extinct in a few years — given the pace at which they are being targeted.

Wildlife experts and investigators, like Debbie Banks of Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), have their hopes focused on the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties – CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) — which is to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa in September — to force governments around the world to stop the “licensed victimisation” of wildlife species, like lion and tigers.

“We hope that China would be asked to disclose its stockpiles of tiger bones, which no one has access to,” Debbie Banks told IANS in a conversation.

Indian Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has several times stressed on stiffening the penalties for eco-crimes.

As per a joint report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Interpol, with an estimated ‘black revenue’ of $258 billion, the illegal environment trade or “Environmental Crimes” has outstripped the illegal trade in small arms.

“International criminal gangs and militant groups profit from the plunder of Earth’s resources,” a UNEP statement released on World Environment Day said.

The UNEP-Interpol report adds that environmental crime has notched an annual growth of 5-7 per cent. This is 1.9 to 3.9 times higher than Global Economic Growth, says the International Monetary Fund.

Crimes like trafficking hazardous waste, poaching and logging cost the world economy between some $91-258 billion in 2015, which was 26 per cent higher than previous estimates, while it stood at $70-213 billion in 2014.

According to government records, which experts claim widely under-report, about 3,622 cases of wildlife crime were reported in India in the last three years. A group of elephant poachers was arrested last year from Kerala with 18 elephant carcasses and 538 kg of ivory. Most of the poachers, however, go free.

“The biggest issue is sustaining prosecution and investigation efforts when it comes to wildlife crimes. Poachers arrested with tiger bones and hides get away with bail for a mere Rs 400 to 500. That is the problem we need to deal with to stop all this,” Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder of wildlife conservation organisation Wildlife SOS, told IANS.

Meanwhile, the wildlife organisation Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT) on Saturday discovered the rare ‘Eurasian Otter’ in Madhya Pradesh.

The fascinating discovery was made by camera trapping over a vast area of 5,800 sq. km. in extremely rugged terrain of the Satpura hills and the Kanha-Pench corridor in Madhya Pradesh done by the forest department in collaboration with WCT.

Hope appears to be returning, but the question of how to protect this newly discovered species in the backdrop of existing laws remains ambiguous.

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India

SC agrees to examine plea on ashrams run by fake babas

The petitioner cited the case of ”Adhyatmik Vishwa Vidyalaya” at Rohini in Delhi, where his daughter had stayed for nearly five years. Following complaints from many girl inmates, this ”ashram” was raided by a court-appointed panel.

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New Delhi, July 8 : The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to examine a petition that sought a direction to the Centre to close down the ”ashrams” and spiritual centres run by fake ”babas” who it claimed kept hundreds of women inmates in unhygienic conditions that could potentially lead to Covid-19 outbreak.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre: “Look into this — what can be done. This gives a bad name to everyone.”

The bench asked the petitioner to serve a copy of the petition to the Solicitor General”s office. The top court sought Mehta”s views on the matter and posted the matter for further hearing after two weeks.

Petitioner Dumpala Ramreddy, a resident of Secunderabad said: “Though very serious criminal cases were registered against Veerendra Dev Dixit, Asaram Bapu, Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh baba etc… their ashrams are still being run with the help of their close associates and authorities are not verifying the facilities available there.”

The plea urged the apex court to direct the authorities concerned to frame guidelines in setting up of ”ashrams”, and other spiritual entities in the country.

The petition filed through advocate Sravan Kumar contended that authorities had failed to crack down against fake ”babas” who were allegedly luring innocent people, especially women.

The petitioner alleged that scores of women were forced to stay in the ”ashrams” and given narcotics.

The petitioner cited the case of ”Adhyatmik Vishwa Vidyalaya” at Rohini in Delhi, where his daughter had stayed for nearly five years. Following complaints from many girl inmates, this ”ashram” was raided by a court-appointed panel.

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Can you imagine mental trauma of students, HC asks Delhi University

“So far, 1.58 lakh students have registered for the online examination,” the varsity’s dean of Examination submitted before the court.

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New Delhi, July 8 : The Delhi High Court on Tuesday asked the Delhi University to clarify whether there would be a change in the schedule of the online Open Book Examinations which are slated to commence from July 10.

While passing the said directions, a single judge bench of the high court presided by Justice Pratibha M. Singh remarked: “Can you imagine the mental trauma of a student, how can you expect them to prepare like this?”

The remarks came after the officials of the Delhi University sought more to time to respond to the query of the court regarding any change in the date sheet and schedule of the examinations.

During the course of the hearing, through its counsel Sachin Dutta and Dean Examinations Vinay Gupta, Delhi University told the bench that since the situation is extraordinary, a tentative schedule can only be given.

“Evaluation of papers would begin from August first week and would continue till mid-September and the declaration of results would be done within the said month,” the Delhi University told the court adding that the degree would be immediately available at the time of declaration of results and it would be uploaded online so that students can download it, except in some PG courses where the process is done manually.

In order to show its preparations for the examinations, the varsity informed the court that during the mock tests conducted by it, 4.86 lakh papers have been downloaded and attempted which shows that the students are able to attempt the paper. It was further submitted by the DU that 4.68 lakh files have been uploaded.

The DU further informed the court that there are around 2.45 lakh students who are studying in the final year of the varsity, out of which 1.86 lakh belongs to Delhi and 59,000 students are from outside the national capital.

“So far, 1.58 lakh students have registered for the online examination,” the varsity’s dean of Examination submitted before the court.

Professor Gupta stated that date sheets have already been uploaded on the website and in the online exams, in case the varsity”s portal is not accessible, question papers will be emailed to the students.

If any student is unable to upload the answer sheets due to technical snag, they can also email it to the university and the window will be open for 30 minutes after the exams time is over. Moreover, after the said time limit concludes, a committee will examine the technical glitch and decide whether to accept the answer sheets or not, the DU told the bench.

The court was hearing a petition filed by one Anupam and several students of the final year of the Delhi University seeking cancellation of the examinations in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The plea sought quashing and withdrawal of the notifications of May 14, May 30, June 27 in respect of undergraduate and postgraduate students, including students of the School of Open Learning and Non-Collegiate Women Education Board.

“… the UGC and the Central Government, ought to also bear in mind that the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in enormous mental distress and agony to students. There are families which are suffering medical illnesses and giving of examinations is not just a technological issue but the state of mental preparedness of the students also needs to be assessed,” said the court on Monday.

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Job offers to emotional blackmail, cyber criminals’ lockdown tactics

Political commentator and policy analyst Sanjaya Baru was cheated of Rs 24,000 on the pretext of online delivery of liquor in June. Baru was also the media advisor to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

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New Delhi, July 7 : A criminal is a fast learner. He keeps upgrading his skills in line with his changing surroundings, making it difficult for the law enforcing agencies to keep pace. Those involved in white collar crimes are even harder to trace and arrest as unlike other criminals they can commit a crime without being physically present near the victim. Now it seems that cyber criminals have fast adapted to the country”s state of lockdown and evolved new tactics to dupe people.

From impersonating an identity on social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram to luring people for jobs in the government sector; from emotional blackmail to pretending to be bank officials, they do it all. During the lockdown when many are working from home and spending more time on mobiles and computers, the cyber frauds seem to have taken this as an opportunity.

Recently, a man was arrested from Mathura in Uttar Pradesh for impersonating the identity of the victim”s senior on Facebook and asking him for Rs 60,000 for the treatment for his wife who he claimed was hospitalized. The victim, a Delhi resident, obliged and ended up transferring Rs 58,000 to the PayTm wallet of the accused. The matter came to light when the victim called his senior.

In another case, a woman was duped of Rs 34 lakhs as a man who developed a friendship with her on social media turned out to be a cheat. He not just emotionally blackmailed her on the promise of marriage but also went to Leh and Ladakh with her. The man was arrested from Vijayawada.

Political commentator and policy analyst Sanjaya Baru was cheated of Rs 24,000 on the pretext of online delivery of liquor in June. Baru was also the media advisor to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

“The irony is people don”t divulge details to strangers in the real world but in the virtual world they trust easily and part with their personal details which are later misused by the cyber criminals. The key word is caution. One has to be cautious while interacting on social media, said Anyesh Roy, DCP Cyber crime.

During the lockdown, data released by Delhi police showed that 3,430 such complaints were received in May this year as compared to just 1,260 in January. This means the number of cases almost tripled during the lockdown.

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