Prime accused in feral horse smuggling case yet to be nabbed
TINSUKIA: The Tinsukia Wildlife Division is yet to corner the prime accused involved in the sensational feral horse smuggling from Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in Tinsukia district with alleged kingpin an ex-Army officer gone underground since the crime was detected even as a summon has been served to him by the Forest Department to appear before the Investigating officer-cum-DFO of Tinsukia Wildlife Division on or before March 20.
The forest staff of Tinsukia Wildlife Division rescued six feral horses on February 28 near Makum bypass when being transported in a truck bearing registration number AS 01JC 0457 with a label ‘On Army Duty’. While four occupants- two ex-defence personnel named Subedar Khagen Baishya and Arun Pal Singh, a horse trainer of Indian Navy, driver Rafiqul Islam and handyman Abdul Kalam - were nabbed and sent to judicial remand, the main alleged kingpin, an ex-Army officer named Lt Col Ashutosh Tripathi, who is a promoter of Guwahati Riding and Polo Club, was behind the truck in another vehicle that overtook the seized truck and fled unnoticed as forest officials were ignorant about Tripathi’s movement.
On interrogation, Khogen Baishya revealed that they were working at the behest of Tripathi and had brought the horses for providing patrolling duty by forest rangers of Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary under Kamrup Wildlife Division. The papers produced by Baishya during interrogation were either forged/doctored or misused. The rescued horses were later released in the Park in presence of senior forest officials, WTI veterinarian, environmentalists and honorary district wildlife warden.
A highly places source said, one Seril Mura having his hideout on the northern bank of Ananta Nallah, a tributary of River Brahmaputra, ferried two of his trained horses to an under construction hospital campus at Leupoti Phulbari gaon under Talap OP where the feral horses allegedly captured by him along with few of his accomplices from the Park and periphery areas were being trained by Arun Pal Singh after a huge monetary deal.
Rajendra Singh Bharti, the DFO of Tinsukia Wildlife Division, told The Sentinel that the forest personnel have been on the trail of all the persons, including the contractor of the hospital, allegedly involved in the smuggling of horses. All of them had gone underground, he revealed, adding that the investigation process would continue till the main culprits, including retired Lt Col Tripathi were captured, else all of them would be declared as proclaimed offender under law.
Due to acute shortage of forest staff, the field personnel had to be deployed in ministerial work which resulted in hindrance in the crime-related investigation process, Bharti said. As Lt Col Tripathi’s whereabouts could not be ascertained till date, a source revealed that he might have taken shelter in the nearby Army’s unit. The Army when contacted denied having extended any support to Tripathi, as alleged, but intriguing was as to who from the Army or masquerading as Army pressurized forest officials for the safe passage of Tripathi.
This is not the solitary incident of feral horse being smuggled from Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. There were several previous attempts. In 2009, 16 feral horses were taken away with ‘valid’ documents and again in 2014, two horses died in transit. The magnificent feral horses are the pride of Dibru-Saikhowa National Park which are localised in certain pockets, both in Guijan and Saikhowa ranges and also in revenue area like Shurke Chapori. Two-to-three decades back, these feral horses due to their wilderness never came close to humans but due to encroachment of habitat and settlement of dairy khuties, these horses were often seen grazing very close to settlement and became prone to poachers.