Paper Tiger Bureau?

Dogged by charges of inefficiency and isolation, it's a tough battle ahead for the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau

Akash Bisht Delhi

Citing the grave threat that organised poaching posed to wildlife, the government constituted a statutory body, the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), in 2007 to protect the wildlife in India. The bureau was given the mandate to complement the efforts of state governments – primary enforcers of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 – and other enforcement agencies. Conceptualised to combat the challenges that organised crime posed, WCCB seems today to be in disarray, after years of drifting from its original goal.

Since 2007, WCCB has been too covert about its operations, seeking to evade scrutiny by the public gaze. This isolation has today reached a point where the bureau stares at a crisis with two of its top bosses from the Indian Police Service (IPS) having offered to quit. They have requested to be sent back to their respective parent cadres. Sources have informed Hardnews that Rina Mitra, IPS (MP) and Additional Director, WCCB, has offered to quit. Also, her second-in-command, SB Negi, IPS (HP), Joint Director, has refused to take over from her. Ironically, a joint director from the customs department, who was slated to join the bureau at its inception, is yet to
make an entry. The customs department's reluctance is attributed to the dire straits the wildlife investigating agency is in.

"With little support for WCCB within the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) and with negligent manpower and skewed finances, the bureau's future looks bleak. The annual budget is only Rs 3.8 crore and manpower is down to 75, including peons and drivers. We need a 1,000-plus workforce to be competent," says a senior
WCCB official.

Even other senior officers of WCCB agree that it has failed to fully realise the mandate, which could have transformed and modernised the way wildlife crimes were pursued in India. "Brilliant investigating officers like Ramesh Kumar Pandey are being asked to do administrative work. Critics should also reflect upon these grey areas," says one of them.

The bureau has been subjected to severe criticism for putting a premium on shrouding itself in a veil of secrecy. This cloak-and-dagger game isn't going down well with MoEF's bureaucratic set-up. "The negative feedback is partly because it is being run by a police officer, and officers from the Indian Forest Service (IFS) in MoEF don't want an IPS officer to be at the helm," he says. Another source informs Hardnews that Jagdish Kishwan, Director, WCCB, and Additional Director General (Wildlife), MoEF, has visited bureau headquarters only once in five years since its inception – to inaugurate the premises.

The genesis of the conflict dates back to the Subramanium Committee's 1994 report on preventing illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products. The comprehensive report was the first to suggest the formation of a directorate of prevention of crime against wildlife.

"Subramanium had suggested that the CEO of any such body should have a police background," says a former IFS officer.

Since 2007, WCCB has been too covert about its operations, seeking to evade scrutiny by the public gaze