Friday, September 12, 2008

Pair sentenced over India insects

By Amitabha Bhattasali
BBC News, Calcutta

Peter Svacha (left) and Emil Kuchera
The two men were arrested in June (Photo by Mrinal Rana)

A Czech scientist has been fined and a colleague jailed for three years after being found guilty of illegally collecting rare insects in India.

Entomologist Peter Svacha was called a victim of circumstance by the judge in the north-eastern town of Darjeeling.

But Emil Kuchera was sentenced to three years in prison.

The pair were arrested in possession of dozens of species of beetles, butterflies and other rare insects. They denied planning to sell them.

'Renowned scientist'

The two men were charged with collecting the specimens from Singalila National Park after their arrest in June.

They were found guilty on Monday of violating India's Wildlife Protection Act and Bio-diversity Act.

Sumita Ghatak, the forest official in charge of the region, told the BBC: "They neither had permission to enter and collect rare insects and larvae from the national park, nor did they get clearance for carrying out scientific studies."

Both men said that they had not collected the insects for commercial purposes and that they had not entered the national park.

Svacha's arrest caught the attention of the international scientific community. Kucera, a forester, has a website offering to sell insects.

Awarding sentence, Chief Judicial Magistrate UK Nandy said that he was not jailing Svacha as he was a renowned scientist and a "victim of circumstances".

Svacha was fined 20,000 rupees ($500), while Kucera was also fined 60,000 rupees.

Scientists from all over the world had launched an internet campaign seeking release of the two Czechs.

Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan, a Bangalore-based scientist who launched the campaign, told the BBC: "If the scientists were let off with the collections, the knowledge produced would have been a great asset for the data-deficient North Eastern Himalaya Biodiveristy Hotspot."

Smuggling

But forest officials said the scientist had committed a crime by not getting the required permission and documents. Even wildlife activists supported the forest department.

Animesh Basu, president of the Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation, said: "The law should not make any difference between a scientist and a commoner.

"Being a scientist they should know the forest law better. And in earlier occasions, foreign nationals have been found guilty of smuggling rare species of wildlife out of this region."

Lawyers on both sides said they might appeal to a higher court once they get the full judgment.

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