Guwahati: CBI has taken up the probe into the killing of rhinos in Assam following unabated rise in such incidents even as the state government turns to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in a bid to tackle illegal poaching of these animals.
Environment and Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain told reporters on Sunday that the Union Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions has sent a communication regarding the CBI probe to the Assam government yesterday.
However, details of the number of cases taken up by CBI and the time-frame for the investigation was yet to be known.
"We are awaiting further details. But we welcome the Centre`s initiative," Hussain said.
"We had suggested that CBI take up all cases up to three to five years old. However, as per their (CBI) proforma they take up investigation based on cases and FIRs filed," he said.
Kaziranga National Park(KNP) has witnessed an upsurge in poaching pf rhinos since last year. Last year, 25 rhinos were killed in KNP, while 20 have been poached so far this year.
In Manas, two rhinos were poached this year and one was killed last year at Orang.
For better surveillance of KNP, Hussain said the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) of the Union Environment and Forests Ministry will undertake test flights of UAVs over the sanctuary from tomorrow.
The flights would be conducted till April 11, he said. Besides NTAC, officials from Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the state government would also monitor the drone flights, he said.
"The test flight of UAVs at KNP would be taken up from 4 pm tomorrow. Senior scientist from WII Dehradun K Ramesh and WWF International`s A Christy Williams will be there," Hussain said.
He said the state government has already sent a proposal for use of UAVs in KNP to protect wildlife and to fight against poachers.
"The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has already forwarded the request to the Ministry of Defence. So far the MoD has not given its approval," the minister said.
He said no MoD official would be present during the test flights.
"The test flights would be helpful once we get the MoD approval," Hussain said.
For the test flight, `Hobby UAVs` would be used for which no MoD clearance is required, he said.
Hussain said NTCA is also organising a training programme at KNP on April 20 on the subject of investigation and forensic evidence in wildlife offences.
"We had asked for such a session as knowledge of legal matters on wildlife offences is less among officials. CBI Mumbai Joint Director Keshav Kumar will chair the training programme," he said.
Hussain said he had written to chief minister Tarun Gogoi on September 27, 2012, for a CBI inquiry into killing of rhinos and it was forwarded to the chief secretary the same day. The state home department had then contacted the union government in this regard.
The state government had in recent months come under intense criticism from opposition parties and civil society over spurt in incidents of poaching in KNP and other wildlife sanctuaries.
In January, the CID has taken over the investigation of seven cases related to poaching of rhinos.