Khokon Saha, big fish of turtle trade, in West Bengal police net
The West Bengal CID has arrested Khokon Saha, a 65-year-old man who is one of the « top three traders » involved in the smuggling of endangered species in the state.
In a major crackdown on turtle poaching, the West Bengal CID has arrested Khokon Saha, a 65-year-old man who is one of the « top three traders » involved in the smuggling of endangered species in the state.
According to the police, the accused dealt with two species of turtles – Indian Flapshell and Softshell – both endangered and protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972. The two species are caught from the tributaries of Ganges – Ghagra, Gomti and Chambal – in Uttar Pradesh and then smuggled to over 1,000 km to the south of West Bengal.
Here, the turtle meat is eaten as a delicacy by both Hindus and Muslims, mostly in the villages of Bongaon, Barasat, Chandpara, Gobordanga and Basirhat that fall along the Indo-Bangladesh border. It is consumed mostly by immigrants from Bangladesh, fisher folk and the poor, said the police.
« The rest, over 40 per cent, is sent to Bangladesh through the Petrapole-Benapole border checkpoint by train, as hand carry and head-loads. Here the soft flesh is consumed and dried shells are powdered for medicinal use. The smaller Indian Star Tortoise is routed to Hong Kong and Thailand to be sold as pets, » said Dr. Shailendra Singh, Turtle Survival Alliance.
Police said that Saha was picked up from Chandpara, Police Station Gai Ghata of North 24 Parganas, where he was hiding at a relative’s shanty. The elderly man, who police say has been in the trade for more than a decade, is suffering from very high blood sugar, rotten feet and gangrene.
As a result, he did not offer much resistance. He was produced in Kalyani Court, Nadia District, and has been sent to five days police custody.
KHOKON MONITORED BY POLICE SINCE LAST WINTER
A senior officer in the Special Operation Group, West Bengal CID, who did not wish to be named said, « We were keeping an eye on Khokon since winters last year. That’s the time when turtles arrive at the beach to lay eggs, and the mothers are most vulnerable. We received a lot of inputs regarding hauls of thousands of turtles arriving at Khokon’s behest. »
The officer added, « He distributed them among retailers who would sell them in small markets. » While near Chambal River in UP, a turtle would sell for `60-100 per kg, in Bengal the price could be as high as `400-500 per kg. In Bangladesh, these turtles fetch anywhere between `700 and 800 per kg.
A senior officer in the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, east region, said that with Khokon’s arrest, almost the entire network of turtle receivers and sellers in Bengal has been killed. « After Khokon, two other prominent names are Tarok Ghosh and Bhola Ghosh. The former is absconding while the latter was caught 15 days ago. »