THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A damning confession, discovery of elephant carcasses in the deep, phone transcripts, diary entries, the mysterious death of a dreaded poacher, a massive haul of ivory artefacts in Delhi with links to the gunned-down tuskers, nearly 40 suspects in custody... there was considerable material to not just bust the most notorious elephant poaching syndicate in the country after the death of Veerappan but also bring to book the masterminds. It is estimated that the syndicate had shot down nearly 40 wild tuskers in the Edamalayar, Parambikulam, Wayanad and Munnar forest divisions in the last 10 years.
Yet, exactly two years after the confession of a 'forest watcher'-turned-poacher who was part of the hunting forays, the state has filed just a single chargesheet in the case.Though 36 suspects were nabbed most are now out on bail simply because no chargesheets were filed. (Protocol insists that the accused in poaching cases should be questioned in the presence of an assistant conservator of forests. This stipulation was violated, weakening the case.) Given the global ramifications (smugglers are said to have links in China, Nepal and Sri Lanka), the state government had handed over the case details to the CBI. Intriguingly, the CBI refused to take up the case. It was on June 3, 2015, forest watcher Kunjumon Devassy spilled the beans to forest officials about the mindless poaching going on in the state’s deeps under a ruthless poacher named Aikkaramuttam Vasu.
Forest officials had initially refused to record his statement but his confession revealed the modus operandi and the main players in the syndicate. This led to a series of arrests, which yielded phone transcripts and diary entries from a middle-level operator named Aji Bright, which further led the forest officials on October 2, 2015, to the safe house of Umesh Agarwal, the biggest ivory smuggler in the country. A mighty ivory hoard of 700 kg worth nearly `20 crore was confiscated. Following this, the ivory dealer who supplied ivory artefacts to Agarwal, Eagle Rajan, was nabbed in Thiruvananthapuram. Strangely, it was later said that the confiscated artefacts were not made of ivory. Both Agarwal and Rajan are now out. Aji Bright, too. In between, Vasu was found dead in mysterious circumstances in a farmhouse at Dodamarg in Maharashtra on July 21, 2015. Forest officials said it was suicide but the death still remains a mystery. In August 2015, two senior forest officials, a couple, were indicted for using third-degree methods on certain accused in the poaching case.