Kolkata, July 25 The Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate (ACJM), Darjeeling, granted bail to Czech scientists Petr Svacha and Emil Kucera on Friday morning. After spending more than a month in jail, the duo was finally released late in the evening.
ACJM U K Nandi granted the bail on a condition that the scientists will not be allowed to leave Darjeeling until further orders. They also need to meet investigating officers twice a week to complete the probe being conducted by the district police. Their passports, seized by the forest department earlier, will not be handed over to them.
Svacha and Kuchera were arrested by the police on June 22 for violating the Wildlife Protection Act, following complaints lodged by the forest department. Since then, they were lodged in the Darjeeling jail.
Earlier, the ACJM court had rejected their bail petition.
According to a source in the Darjeeling jail, a Czech embassy official from Delhi spoke to the scientists over the phone after their release. The jail authorities also provided them with a vehicle to reach Darjeeling town. “They left the jail at 6.30 pm,” said a source.
Advocate Taurang Pandit, counsel of the scientists, had moved the bail petition on July 23.
A spokesman of the Czech embassy in Calcutta said the scientists would give their full cooperation to investigating officers of the case. “We will move a petition before the court to relax the conditions of the bail,” he said.
Czech duo may be part of insect smuggling racket
KOLKATA: The arrest in Darjeeling of two Czech nationals — who introduced themselves as a scientist and a forester and collected several rare species of butterflies and insects without permission from the forest department — has literally opened a can of worms.
Forest officials fear that they trespassed into Singalila National Park with a motive. And they might be part of a global network that trades in endangered varieties of butterflies and insects that fetch millions of dollars in the international market.
According to the forest department, one of the arrested, Peter Svacha, even has a website on which he has posted offers to sell some rare butterflies. Svacha and his companion Emil Kucera — who claimed to be a forester — were remanded in jail custody till July 21 by the Darjeeling court on Wednesday.
Forest officials seized 60 butterflies, over a dozen rare varieties of beetles and moths from them after their arrest from a Darjeeling hotel on June 22. The catch, made at the national park in Darjeeling, is estimated to be worth Rs 10 crore in the international market. It has been sent to the Zoological Survey of India for analysis.
Investigators are proceed-ing cautiously because the accused scientist is apparently well known and finds mention on several websites.
Seshmani Gurung, defence lawyer for the duo, said: "I could not attend the hearing because of the ceasework at court. I will advise my clients to write to the political party that has called the strike in government offices and to the Bar council to open the court for proceedings."
While the butterflies are listed in Schedule I, the beetles are included in Schedule II of the Wild Life Protection Act. Neither Svacha nor Kucera had clearance or permission to collect butterflies from Singalila National Park.
"But they were carrying all the necessary equipment, which shows they had come with a purpose. It can’t be that they were not aware that permission had to be sought. The two had insect catching nets, an axe, a saw, a lamp and glue. They were even carrying preservatives. We suspect the butterflies and insects would either have been smuggled to China or to some European country from the Czech Republic," said Utpal Nag, assistant divisional forest officer of Darjeeling. "Both are well aware of the forest rules and regulations in India and had done an extensive study on Indian biodiversity. This could be the tip of an iceberg."
Darjeeling and the Dooars are considered among the richest in the world in terms of biodiversity. The area is home to 120 rare species of butterflies that have a huge market in at least 16 countries including China, US and Tibet. Last year, a German national was caught collecting insects from Darjeeling.
"Bio-piracy is rampant in the eastern Himalayas. Just 3-4 cases have come to light in the last 10 years while the rest went unnoticed. Usually foreigners operate in the area posing as scientists. This is a cause for concern," said Deepankar Ghosh, senior coordinator of WWF India.