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Amendment to Wildlife (Protection) Act and protection of India’s Wildlife

  • Category
    Environment
  • Published
    31st Jan, 2022

Context

India enacted its Wild Life (Protection) Act, or WLPA, 50 years ago as its principal law to protect and conserve its wildlife. In December 2021, the Union environment ministry announced a plan to amend this Act by introducing the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2021.

Background

  • India is blessed with dense forests and thriving, healthy ecosystems within its borders.
  • The flora and fauna of India, some of them only endemic to India, makes India a hotspot for tourists.
  • The country is also home to well over 2000 tigers - most of which reside and roam within protected reserves.
  • India has more than a hundred national parks, covering over 15,600 square miles of protected land.
  • One cannot discount the fact that wildlife in India has survived the onslaught of hunters, especially during the British colonial era in the century before Independence. 
  • Many of the country’s wildlife sanctuaries were once hunting reserves exploited by the British officers and some erstwhile maharajas.
  • In contemporary India, though, more than 50 have been designated as tiger reserves and are protected areas under the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972 (WPA - 1972).

Facts on India’s incredible Biodiversity

  • India is the only country in the world with native populations of both tigers and lions.
  • India is just 2% of the world's land mass, but is home to 8% of the world’s biodiversity.
  • Among plants, 33% of the world's species are endemic to India, which means they are found nowhere else in the world. 
  • Mangroves in India account for about 3% of the world's entire mangrove vegetation.
  • India is one of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world. Out of 35 biodiversity hotspots in the world, India has 4 biodiversity hotspots.
  • India is home to 12% of the world’s bird species.
  •  India is home to nearly half of the world’s aquatic plants.

Analysis

The original Act

  • The original Wild Life (Protection) Act acts to:
    • prohibits people from hunting wildlife
    • provides legal safeguards for different species based on their threat status
    • regulates trade and commerce in wild species
    • imposes penalties for wildlife-related crimes
    • specifies the terms to declare protected areas
  • The Act has been amended several times, in 1982, 1986, 1991, 1993, 2002, 2006 and 2013.
  • The proposed amendment is likely the most expansive so far in scope: it covers more areas of legislation, from trade in wild species to permitting filmmaking in protected areas and controlling the spread of invasive species.

Objects and reasons of the bill

  • The Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, was enacted to provide for the protection of wild animals, birds and plants with a view to ensure the ecological and environmental security of the country.
  • The bill seeks to include the aspects of “conservation” and “management” of wildlife which are covered by the Act and make amendments for better management of protected areas.
  • It proposes to rationalise and amend the schedules, which list out wildlife species, for the purposes of clarity, and ensure better care of seized live animals and disposal of seized wildlife parts and products.
  • India is a party to the Convention on International trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (the Convention) which requires that appropriate measures are taken to enforce the provisions of the Convention.
    • It is proposed to amend the Act to provide for the implementation of the Convention.

Assessing the proposed amendment rules

  • Positive side
  • Decentralization: The Bill aims to decentralise wildlife protection, with the establishment of Standing Committees of State Boards of Wildlife, which can regulate permissions to various projects based on their impact on the wildlife, without having to refer to the National Board for Wildlife.
  • The bill also aims to streamline the schedules mentioned in the original Act, shrinking them from six to four.
  • Additionally, Wildlife Management Plans crafted for wildlife sanctuaries and parks in the country will be brought under the jurisdiction of the Act, thereby increasing the scope for stricter protection for various species. These were earlier governed by the government in charge. 
  • Increased penalty for wildlife crimes: The Bill increases penalties for wildlife crimes.
    • For example, offences that attracted a fine of Rs 25,000 now attract Rs 1 lakh.
  • CITES: There’s a new and separate chapter on regulating species involved in international trade according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Specifically, the Bill prohibits possessing, trading and breeding species without prior permissions from CITES authorities.
    • India became party to CITES in 1976.
  • Invasive alien species: The Bill also recognises threats that invasive alien species pose.
    • These species aren’t native to the country; when they’re introduced to an ecosystem that hasn’t evolved to deal with this life-form, they can quickly degrade it to their advantage.
      • An infamous example is the weed called mesquite.

The Bill doesn’t include regional invasive species – some of which may be native to the country but invasive in some parts. For example, the spotted deer, or chital, is native to India but is invasive in the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

Negative side

  • Effect on elephant population: The bill allows for commercial trade in elephants which is problematic because it effectively gives legal sanctity to commercial trade in live elephants.
    • Wild Asian elephants are taken from forests, often illegally, to maintain the high demand for captive elephants. This could affect wild populations of elephants.
  • More power to centre: Another amendment in the bill has given excessive delegation and unrestricted power to the Central government to declare a species as
    • Once a wild animal is declared as vermin, it enjoys no legal protection and has the same status as a domestic animal. It can be killed, traded, and tamed.
  • Permission for film shoot: Section-28 (b) has been amended to grant permission for film-making without causing any adverse impact to habitat/wildlife.
    • Film shooting was banned in 1978 to avoid accidents and tragedies.
  • The bill also lacks to encourage the importance of including research and habitats in the Preamble and creating enabling provisions.

Conclusion

There is a dire need for joint effort of Government furthermore, Stakeholders with NGOs for various projects worry to protection of biodiversity and natural life government assistance. Government ought to endorse enactment for illicit exercises that drives biodiversity to the edge of termination.  There ought to be open mindfulness about wildlife conservation significance through social, print and electronic media.

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