The verification of rhino horns stored in 13 treasuries across Assam has barely passed a fortnight and already some fishy goings-on have come to light. There was some sty surprise for the 12-member verification panel which includes two senior mediapersons, when five of 56 horns stored in Tezpur treasury and one of four horns stored in Biswath treasury turned out to be made of bamboo root. Sections of five other horns appear to have been sliced off and replaced with other material. A trunk of horns from the Sonitpur West division treasury was found with broken seal and keys missing, which the panel refused to examine. This raises question marks about officials in charge of the treasury boxes when these horns were stored there sometime in the early Nineties. Did the tampering and substitution occur when the horns were being brought by police from sites of rhino deaths and handed over to foresters? Or did it happen under lock and key within the concerned treasury itself? If evidence of official complicity is discovered, it will merely prove the clout of poacher/smuggler gangs in official circles. By the time the 60-day verification process is over, more such cans of worms may yet be unearthed. Some environmental activist groups are now demanding a CBI probe into how fake rhino horns are turning up in treasury strongboxes. After all, recovered rhino horns are stored with serial numbers after an elaborate process of taking photographs and recording size, weight and other specifications. While the horns of slain rhinos are cut off by poachers, there have been allegations of malpractices with the storing of horns of rhinos dying of old age, infighting, predator attacks, floods and other tural causes. After Forest minister Pramila Rani Brahma at a meeting last month gave the order to compile a complete inventory of rhino horns stocked in the treasuries, another elaborate process for verification was worked out to ensure transparency. Forensic experts are also accompanying the panel members and setting up field labs for on-the-spot verification. While no major irregularity is learnt to have been detected in verifying 1,195 rhino horns kept in the Golaghat treasury, it is some other treasuries that may spring surprises in the coming days. It remains to be seen whether the State government will have the gumption to follow up on any such exposes and hold erring officials accountable.
Fake rhino horns