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When a person hunts any of the wild animals which are included under Schedule I to IV, it becomes an offence u/s 51 of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972: Supreme Court

“Both Indian Soft-shelled Turtle and Indian Flap Shell Turtle are two different species or part of single species or a subspecies of the latter are matters of expert evidence and ought to have been decided only under trial”, this remarkable stand was forwarded by the Honorable SC in the miscellaneous appeal case of Titty Alias George Kurian V. The Deputy Range Forest Officer, [R.P(Cri.) No. 593 Of 2018)] in [C.A. No. 758 Of 2018], chaired by Hon’ble Justice Mr. Ashok Bhushan and Hon’ble Justice Ms. Indu Malhotra.

This appeal has been filed against the judgment dated 16.11.2017 of the Kerala HC by which the HC has allowed Criminal M.C. No.2720 of 2017 filed by the respondent by quashing proceedings in C.C. No.706 of 2016. The Deputy Range Forest Officer aggrieved by judgment of the High Court has come up in this appeal.

The facts of the case briefly are: On 25.07.2016 from the respondent, Titty alias George Kurian a Turtle was seized by Rani Forest Flying Squared by a Range Staff at Karumbanakulam. The offence under Section 2, 9, 39A, 49A and 51 of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 was registered. A charge-sheet was submitted by the Forest Officer. After seizure of the Turtle, the same was sent for identification to Veterinary Surgeon who by its letter dated 26.07.2016 identified the Turtle on inspection as “Indian Flap Shell”, the scientific name is “Lissemys Punctata”. The Court on 27.07.2016 directed the Turtle to be freed.

The respondent/accused filed an application before the High Court for quashing the criminal proceedings. It was submitted before the High Court that Indian Flap Shell Turtle which was seized was not found included in Schedule I of Part II of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, hence, such possession of the Turtle of that species will not invite the offences alleged against the accused. The High Court being satisfied that Turtle seized was not that species of Turtle which is included in Part II of Schedule I of the Act, 1972, allowed the application and quashed the criminal proceedings. Aggrieved by the judgment of the High Court this appeal has been filed by the Deputy Range Forest Officer.

Learned counsel for the appellant contends that whether Indian Soft-shelled Turtle and Indian Flap Shell Turtle are two different species or part of single species or a subspecies of the latter are matters of expert evidence and ought to have been decided only under trial and the High Court committed error in allowing the application under Section 482 Cr.P.C.

After examining all the submissions, arguments and evidences forwarded by the councils, the Hon’ble SC in this present appeal overruled the decision made by the HC, with the direction that, “A perusal of the letter given by the Veterinary Surgeon as extracted above indicates that Veterinary Surgeon has identified the Turtle as ‘Indian Flap Shell (Lissemy’s Punctata)’ whereas the Turtle which is included in Part II of Schedule I of the Act, 1972 is “Indian Soft-shelled Turtle (Lissemys punctata punctata).” Lissemys punctata is a species of which Lissemys punctata is infraspecies. Although Lissemys punctata is included in Part II of Schedule I of the Act, however, the Turtle which has been seized is not that which is included in Part II of Schedule I. In the facts of the present case, on the face of it, the Turtle seized is not included in Schedule I Part II and the Turtle having already been freed on the second day of its seizure, the High Court did not commit any error in quashing the criminal proceedings registered for Wild Life offences.”

In lieu of the above made considerations and observations, the bench in this present case disposed the appeal stating that, “We do not find good ground to interfere with the order of the High Court by which the High Court has exercised its jurisdiction under Section 482 Cr.P.C. On the facts of the present case, the appeal is dismissed.”

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