Pashmina Vs Shahtoosh: PIL Before Delhi High Court, Notice Issued To Govt

SRINAGAR: Responding to a plea seeking improved infrastructure in the forensic science laboratories (FSLs) that are engaged in wildlife forensics, a division bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad of Delhi High Court has issued notice and sought response from several Ministries of the Central Government; the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs, Wildlife Institute of India, Zoological Survey of India and Wildlife Crime Control Bureau.

The plea moved by three unions of exporters, manufacturers, traders, and artisans of Pashmina shawls demands modern ‘Scanning Electron Microscopic’ technology and DNA testing procedures in the labs. The petition has been moved through Advocates Tanveer Ahmed Mir, Kartik Venu and Shikhar Sharma.

Their grievance as per the plea is that customs and criminal prosecutions are initiated against stakeholders of the Pashmina trade on the premise that their consignment for export carry articles ‘suspected to be shahtoosh guard hair’. Such actions are adversely impacting the industry at large, the plea adds.

Urging that the techniques used are “obsolete”, the plea reads that “the sole basis of these prosecutions emanates from forensic reports that are issued by the forensic science laboratories using technologically obsolete methods [referred to as ‘Light Microscopy’], that erroneously conclude various exporters’ consignments to be ‘positive for Shahtoosh’guardhair’,”

Consequent to such forensic reports, the accused stakeholders are subjected to “onerous customs proceedings”, leading to huge monetary losses and delays in release of seized shipments, the petition argues. Many exporters facing prosecutions, including the Petitioners, have countless experiences of conflicting results of the government’s own forensic reports, it adds

The plea further states that at present there are only two empanelled forensic science laboratories in Dehradun and Kolkata and both of which use Light Microscopy for examining consignments suspected to be ‘shahtoosh’.

“Despite making all efforts to ensure quality control, many times it is noticed that the shawl which is otherwise 100% pure pashmina and manufactured/weaved from pashmina wool contains a few stray ‘guard hairs’ superficially or somehow contamination found belonging to different species or for that matter of Tibetan Antelope (Chiru) / Shahtoosh. However, it is to be noted that accidentally falling hair are a case of contamination and by no stretch of the imagination can be said to constitute trading an illegal item or ‘Animal Article’ as defined under Wildlife Protection Act,” the PIL contends.

Reiterating that the time should not be wasted, the plea urges that “It is imperative that Pashmina exporters and traders be able to test their shawls or products prior to exporting the same in order to determine their textile composition and stay within the law. Further, both for the purposes of Customs as well as criminal prosecution under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, these test results must be treated as a form of certification of authenticity. Doing so will save precious time at customs clearance and will avoid the potential of seizing the entire consignment on suspicion of being contraband.”


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