- Rajya Sabha passed the Wildlife (Protection), Amendment Bill, 2022. The Lok Sabha passed the Bill in the Monsoon Session.
- The amendment seeks to give effect to India’s obligations under the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (‘CITES’), which requires countries to regulate the trade of all listed specimens through permits.
- In this context, this edition of the burning issue analyses the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2022.
About the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972
- WPA provides for the protection of the country’s wild animals, birds and plant species, in order to ensure environmental and ecological security.
- It provides for the protection of a listed species of animals, birds and plants, and also for the establishment of a network of ecologically-important protected areas in the country.
- It provides for various types of protected areas such as Wildlife Sanctuaries, National Parks etc.
- The object and purpose of the WPA – to protect animals in their natural environment – was lent credence in the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act,1976, which added the fundamental duty to “protect and improve … wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures” under Article 51A(G).
- This Amendment also inserted Article 48A in the Directive Principles of State Policy, which outlined the protection and safeguarding of wildlife as an ideal to be followed in the governance of the country.
- There are six schedules provided in the WPA for the protection of wildlife species which can be concisely summarized as under:
|Schedule I:||These species need rigorous protection and therefore, the harshest penalties for violation of the law are for species under this Schedule.|
|Schedule II:||Animals under this list are accorded high protection. They cannot be hunted except under threat to human life.|
|Schedule III & IV:||This list is for species that are not endangered. This includes protected species but the penalty for any violation is less compared to the first two schedules.|
|Schedule V:||This schedule contains animals which can be hunted.|
|Schedule VI:||This list contains plants that are forbidden from cultivation.|
- CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
- It is an international agreement aimed at ensuring “that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival”.
- It was drafted after a resolution was adopted at a meeting of the members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1963.
- It entered into force on July 1, 1975, and now has 183 parties.
- The Convention is legally binding on the Parties in the sense that they are committed to implementing it; however, it does not take the place of national laws.
- India is a signatory to and has also ratified CITES convention in 1976.
It has three appendices:
- Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction. Trade-in specimens of these species are permitted only in exceptional circumstances.
- Appendix II provides a lower level of protection.
- Appendix III contains species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling trade.
Provisions of the Wildlife Protection Amendment Bill, 2022
- In line with CITES: Insert a new Schedule for specimens listed in the Appendices under CITES.
- Constitute a Standing Committee: Amendment to Section 6 to constitute Standing Committee to exercise such powers and duties as may be delegated to it by the State Board for Wildlife.
- Elephant usage: Amendment to Section 43 to permit elephants, a Schedule I animal, to be used for ‘religious or any other purpose’.
- Management authority for export/import: Insert Section 49E to empower the Central government to designate a Management Authority to grant export or import permits for the trade of specimens. It further requires every person possessing live specimens of scheduled animals to obtain a registration certificate from the Management Authority.
- Create a scientific authority: Insert Section 49F to empower the Central government to designate a Scientific Authority to advise on aspects related to the impact on the survival of the specimens being traded. These provisions are set to ensure the “sustainable” exploitation of flora and fauna.
- Better control of sanctuaries: The Bill seeks to regulate the control of sanctuaries. It provides that the Chief Wildlife Warden shall act in accordance with the management plans for the sanctuary, to be prepared as per Central guidelines.
- Creation of conservation reserve: It also empowers both Central and State governments to declare areas adjacent to national parks and sanctuaries as conservation reserves, for protecting flora and fauna, and their habitat.
- Managing alien invasive species: The Bill also empowers the Central government to regulate and stop the import, trade or possession of invasive plant or animal alien species.
- Enhanced penalties: The Bill also enhances the penalties prescribed for violation of provisions of the Act. For ‘General violations’, the maximum fine is increased from Rs 25,000 to Rs. 1 lakh. In the case of Specially protected animals, the minimum fine of Rs. 10,000 has been enhanced to Rs. 25,000.
Positive aspects of the bill
- Enhanced Protection of wild animals: Bill seeks to enhance punishment for trade in animal and plant specimens.
- Locals use of Protected Areas: the bill permits certain activities like grazing of livestock and community use of drinking water by local communities.
- Ease of elephant ownership: The Bill seeks to amend Section 43 of the principal Act to permit the transfer or transport of a captive elephant for a religious or any other purpose by a person having a valid certificate of ownership.
Negative aspects of the bill
- Vague clause in section 43: The Bill seeks to amend Section 43 of the principal Act to permit the transfer or transport of a captive elephant for a religious or any other purpose by a person having a valid certificate of ownership. Many members raised concern about this provision, stating that the phrase “any other purpose” is vague and has the potential of encouraging the commercial trade of elephants, their captivity and brutality.
- Silent of important issues: The government missed the opportunity to address the issues relating to Human-Wildlife conflict, Eco-sensitive zone rule, etc.
- The schedule lists not complete: They pointed out that the species listed in all the 3 schedules of the Bill are incomplete as per the report submitted by the Parliamentary Standing Committee and a need was felt for greater inclusion of scientists, botanists, biologists in process of listing all existing species of wildlife.
- Reduced role of states in wildlife management: Protection of wild animals and birds is a subject under the Concurrent List of the Constitution. the proposed amendment bill renders the State Boards for Wildlife chaired by Chief Ministers defunct and provides for establishing a Standing Committee of Board for Wildlife to be headed by the Forest Minister with a maximum of 10 nominated members. This injures the federal structure of India.
- Against the fundamental objective of WPA: The new proviso creates a legal pathway to encourage the further commercialization and transfer of elephants through the vague wording of “religious or any other purpose.” This goes against the fundamental object and purpose of the WPA.
- An additional mechanism may be introduced for acquiring animals for religious institutions.
- The Management and Scientific Authorities contemplated under the Bill must take into account the strong principles of Federalism and ensure constructive engagement of State governments.
- Clauses related to human-animal conflicts and eco-sensitive zones should also be added to the law to provide a legal framework to deal with these issues.
- State’s wildlife bodies should be given due importance in the conservation of wildlife as the subject is a concurrent subject.
- The amendment bill tries to bring the WPA law up to date with the CITES mandate and present environment scenario.
- However, several lacunas have been highlighted by environmental experts which need attention from the government and need to be fixed to bring out the best for the nation’s wildlife.