(Media Swaraj Desk )
27th of July, 2020,. The Barabanki Police arrested inter state turtle smugglers which has unveiled the trade of turtle meat for the first time in the country.
According to police,” there is a long infamous history of illegal turtle smuggling from central India to West Bengal for smuggling into Bangladesh and other countries.”
SP Barabanki, Dr. Aravind Chaturvedi contacted Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and developed intelligence about the illegal soft shell turtle smuggling from Amethi, Sultanpur, Raebareli, Barabanki, Bahraich, and nearby districts. A team led by Inspector Lonikatra, Ashok Kumar Yadav and SWAT team Sub-Inspector Sandeep Dubey verified ground information supported by digital data regarding this trade.
The team intercepted a TATA Magic vehicle and arrested the alleged smugglers along with the illegal contraband. Upon opening the boxes, the police team was taken by surprise to find the finely chopped pieces of turtle meat kept in dry ice. Fish were put as a top layer to disguise the consignment.
On interrogation the main accused Ramanand Bhagat told that he had good contacts in Bengali Settlements in Pyuria, Tanda, Joshi colony, Mala, Naujaria, Lagga-Bhagga, Chandiya, Hazara, etc where this meat could be consumed. Another accused, Guddu told that he had contacts with the local fishermen community who poach turtles for him and chop them in small pieces and pack with dry ice. He has divulged many names in different states where he used to supply such meat. As a part of strategy, they prefer to carry their transport, this illegal consignment, through the rural areas of Barabanki, Sitapur, Khiri to Pilibhit and Uttarakhand.
The team of TSA including regional Director, Dr. Shailendra Singh, an expert on turtles, Ms. Arunima Singh, and their colleagues observed the recovered meat and leg pieces and found that it was of the Indian Soft-Shell Turtle, Zoological name Nilssonia Gangetica and its regional name, ‘Katahwa’. This comes under Schedule 1 species of Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and is declared vulnerable by IUCN (International Union for conservation of Nature) . The samples will be sent to Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun for further forensic report.
Out of the 29 species of turtles found in India, 16 are found in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Of these 16, extensive poaching has been reported for 8 species. Broadly, turtles can be divided into two categories, soft-shell and hard-shell. Soft-shell turtles are carnivorous and aggressive and are smuggled for their meat. Whereas, Hard-shell turtles are vegetarians and submissive and are thus smuggled to be kept as pets. According to the latest Intelligence and crime statistics, living turtles are smuggled through West Bengal to Bangladesh and other countries for their illegal use and trade.
Apart from this, soft-shell turtles found in the Ganga and Yamuna catchment area are smuggled for their Calipee (cartilage) by cutting it from their bodies and drying it. In 2015, such cases were brought to light for the first time by arrests and recoveries made by UP Special Task Force team led by Dr Aravind Chaturvedi, then Addl SP in STF.
Calipee is the protein rich cartilage of the abdominal region of the turtle and is in high demand as an ingredient for soup in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, etc. While the consignments of hundreds and thousands of turtles killed for their Calipee have been caught by the UP STF and other LEA teams in the past, information regarding the smuggling of turtle meat was not known to the Police, Forest department, TSA or WCCB (Wildlife Crime Control Bureau) till now.
Following this rather important recovery, a new challenge has risen for the Central agencies and NGOs because unlike the smuggling of live turtles, illegal trade of turtle meat is difficult to detect, trace and recover. WCCB Delhi Headquarter has been informed about the same, and a pan-India alert will be soon issued.
Case crime number 189/20 u/s 9/44B/51/51(1) Wildlife protection act of India, 1972 and 41/42 Indian Forest Act has been registered. The seized illegal meat has been burned as per the provisions of the said Act under concerned Court directives.
1. 4 Thermocol boxes containing 120 kgs of Turtle Meat.
2. 1 bag containing 2 hammers, 6 chisels, and 1 small screwdriver.
3. 1 TATA Magic carrier vehicle, number: UP32 MN 7465
4.1 TVS Victor Motorcycle, number: UP36 K 4076