THE CONTEXT: With the President’s assent, on December 19, 2022 the Bill to amend the Wildlife (Protection) Act (WLPA), 1972, is now officially law. The Rajya Sabha passed it on December 8, 2022 and the Lok Sabha a year ago. This Act regulates the protection of wild animals, birds and plants and seeks to increase the species protected under the law. In this article, there is an analysis of the amended act and issue related and steps that needs to be taken to ensure wildlife protection.
PROVISIONS OF WPA, 1972 AND WPA, 2022: COMPARISON
- WPA Act is the first act which for the first time concluded a comprehensive list of the country’s endangered wildlife.
- Act prohibited the hunting of endangered species.
- Scheduled animals are prohibited from being traded as per the Act’s provisions.
- The Act provides for licenses for the sale, transfer, and possession of some wildlife species
- It provides for the establishment of wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, etc.
- Conservation reserves: Under the Act, state governments may declare areas adjacent to national parks and sanctuaries as a conservation reserve, for protecting flora and fauna, and their habitat.
- Inclusion in CITES :It helped India become a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES is an international agreement between governments to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species.
- Provision of Schedules: The Act created six schedules which gave varying degrees of protection to classes of flora and fauna. Schedule I and Schedule II (Part II) get absolute protection, and offences under these schedules attract the maximum penalties. The schedules also include species that may be hunted.
- Penalties: (Section 51 of the Wildlife Protection Act): If the offences committed in connection with the animal described in Schedule-I or Part-II of Schedule-II where the offence was related to hunting in the sanctuary or a national park or exchange in the territory of a sanctuary or a national park, such an offence shall be punishable by imprisonment not less than three years but up to seven years and a fine not exceeding ten thousand rupees.
- Act amends the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 by increasing the species protected under the law.
- Centre can designate a management authority to grant export or import permits for the trade of specimens and a scientific authority to give advice on the trade impact on the survival of the specimens
- Centre will appoint a Chief Wild Life Warden who processes applications for breeding in captivity or artificially propagating any scheduled specimen.
- Conservation reserves: Under the Act, though state governments still have powers to declare areas adjacent to national parks and sanctuaries as a conservation reserve but act also empowers the central government to a notify a conservation reserve.
- Obligations under CITES: Under CITES, plant and animal specimens are classified into three categories (Appendices) based on the threat to their extinction. The Convention requires countries to regulate the trade of all listed specimens through permits. It also seeks to regulate the possession of live animal specimens. The Act seeks to implement these provisions of CITES.
- Rationalizing schedules: Act reduces the total number of schedules to four by: (i) reducing the number of schedules for specially protected animals to two (one for greater protection level), (ii) removes the schedule for vermin species, and (iii) inserts a new schedule for specimens listed in the Appendices under CITES (scheduled specimens).
- Penalties: The Amended Act prescribes imprisonment terms and fines for violating the provisions of the Act. The Act increases these fines. Act also enhances the penalties prescribed for violation of provisions of the Act. For ‘General violations’, the maximum fine is increased from Rs 25,000 o Rs. 1 lakh. In case of Specially protected animals, the minimum fine of Rs. 10,000 has been enhanced to Rs. 25,000.
THE CONVENTION ON INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN ENDANGERED SPECIES OF WILD LIFE FAUNA AND FLORA (CITES)
- It is a global agreement among governments to regulate or ban international trade in species under threat.
- CITES remains one of the cornerstones of international conservation. There are 184 member Parties and trade is regulated in more than 38,000 species. Representatives of CITES nations meet every two to three years at a Conference of the Parties (or COP) to review progress and adjust the lists of protected species, which are grouped into three categories with different levels of protection:
- Appendix I: Includes the world’s most endangered plants and animals, such as tigers and gorillas. International commercial trade in these species, or even parts of them, is completely banned, except in rare cases such as scientific research.
- Appendix II: Contains species like corals that are not yet threatened with extinction, but which could become threatened if unlimited trade were allowed. Also included are “look-alike” species that closely resemble those already on the list for conservation reasons. Plants and animals in this category can be traded internationally, but there are strict rules.
- Appendix III: Species whose trade is only regulated within a specific country can be placed on Appendix III if that country requires cooperation from other nations to help prevent exploitation.
CITES also brings together law enforcement officers from wildlife authorities, national parks, customs, and police agencies to collaborate on efforts to combat wildlife crime targeted at animals such as elephants and rhinos.
POSITIVES OF THE AMENDED ACT
- Beneficial for local communities: Act is beneficial for local tribal communities as it inserts an provision to provide for certain permitted activities such as grazing, and this move protecting forest land is critical as it is equally important to safeguard the rights of the people who have been residing there since ages. It would accord greater importance to safeguarding the rights of the local tribal communities through better management of protected areas and by providing them livelihood opportunities.
- Protection of endangered species: The act aims to preserve many natural areas and preserve ongoing declines of numerous species, which seeks to strengthen the protection of endangered species and enhance punishment for illegal wildlife trade.
- Increase in green cover: Act aims to increase in green cover and forest land in the country by enhancing penalties and regulating invasive species.
- Enacting Provisions of CITES: Illegal animal trade is regulated under Custom Act, Foreign Trade Development Regulation Act and Exim Policy and Wildlife Protection Act. However, wild life (protection) amendment act 2022 is an upgradation in that it will aim to implement a dedicated, independent framework to regulate the international trade of listed specimens in adherence to the provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora to which India is a signatory.
- Protected areas regulation: The act aims to better manage and regulate protected areas by providing for authority and stringent laws with penalties. Amendment also makes consulting the Gram Sabha in the management plan for all Wildlife Sanctuaries is mandatory.
CRITICISM OF THE AMENDED ACT
- Stringent policing framework: One of concern is the inclusion of a stringent policing framework as penalties have been increased four times for general violations which need proper implementation rather than just used as a tool to harass local tribal communities.
- Centralisation of powers: It is a further centralisation of powers as the new wildlife bill also allows the constitution of standing committees that will eventually weaken the authority of state wildlife boards and consequences of such deterrents are usually borne by marginalized forest-dwelling groups. It also raised concerns about the move to establish standing committees at SBWLs, saying that this could turn them into rubber stamp machines for wildlife clearances and that they might not be able to function with either independence or environmental integrity.
- Not enough consultation: These new provisions need detailed and consultative deliberations among all stakeholders. The provisions of the amendment may not materialize if it had not taken concerns of all stakeholders and the list of species appears to have been created with little or no consultation.
- Easier transportation of animals: Another concern is that the amendments have not defined what purposes elephants can be used for and have perhaps made it easier for the animals to be transported across the country. Amendment made to Section 43 of the WLPA permits elephants, a Schedule I animal, to be used for ‘religious or any other purpose’. Wildlife activists have criticised the move and animal expere ‘any other purpose’ seemed to have a limitless meaning.
- Reduced power of state board of wildlife: There is also concern that the powers of the State Boards for Wildlife are being diluted, which might prevent them from functioning with either independence or environmental integrity. In their submission to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests, the Legal Initiative for Forests and Environment (LIFE), an NGO that works on environmental laws and advocacy, said that the provision would render the State boards defunct as a handful of members could function “with no accountability to the full Board.
- Did not address human wildlife conflict and eco sensitive rules: Experts pointed that the government missed the opportunity to address the issues relating to Human-Wildlife conflict and Eco-sensitive zone rules.
- Incomplete list of species: Experts pointed that the species listed in all the 3 schedules of the Act is incomplete as per the report submitted by the Parliamentary Standing Committee and there is need for greater inclusion of scientists, botanists, biologists in process of listing all existing species of wildlife which provides for possession, transfer and breeding of living scheduled animal species.
ANALYSIS OF THE AMENDMENT
SIGNIFICANCE OF AMENDED ACT
- Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 has been amended several times and since its enactment and it has been referred as one of the most successful environmental legislations in India which gave legal protection to important wildlife habitats, native wildlife and laid the foundation for important institutions like National Tiger Conservation Authority, National and State Board of Wildlife, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau. However, the changes brought by the 2022 Act is one of the most significant amendments till date. This amendment marks an important landmark for Indian conservation, as it has been 50 years since the enactment of the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972.
ALIGNING TO GLOBAL NEEDS OF CLIMATE CHANGE
- Globally, South Asia is set to be one of the most drastically impacted regions by climate change and emerging diseases. In the future, India will need to rely on a well-trained cadre of wildlife biologists and disease ecologists to understand rapidly emerging threats to wildlife and humans and recommend innovative conservation plans using a ‘One Health’ approach. If the revised schedules in the amended Act end up being an enabler to understand the natural world and its species in a rapidly changing world, it would be a great step forward.
LYING IN GREY AREA
- From its inception, the WPA was meant to protect and preserve animals, birds and plants in their natural habitats. There is the existence of species in a legal grey area for example, In 1977, the Indian elephant was included in Schedule I, which accords the highest degree of protection to wild animals. While elephants continue to exist in a legal grey area despite the intent of the law has always been to protect and preserve them.
PRESERVATION OF SPECIES
- This Act arguably resulted in the preservation of many natural areas and prevented the then ongoing declines of numerous species. Though it was formulated by a select few and incorporated, it ensured cultural diversity in human-environmental relationships.
NEED OF A MORE INCLUSIVE FRAMEWORK
- The use of wildlife was allowed within the Act when it was first passed, but became viewed as problematic over time even for local communities. While the world is moving towards more inclusive models of conservation, India’s premier law for wildlife protection has not kept pace with the changing moral, ethical and social milieu, and seems to be moving back in time.
NEED OF SCIENTIFIC BASIS
- Today there are large databases on many groups of species across India, but none of this seems to have been incorporated into the decision-making. Consequently, the outcomes are not based on science, which is particularly odd given the breadth of ongoing scientific research and existing expertise in India, there is need to include scientific basis while demarcating species.
ISSUES IN WILDLIFE PROTECTION IN INDIA
- Restrictive not enabling act: Wild Life act is primarily a legal instrument that legislates and provides for punitive actions for trade, trafficking and other forms of illegal use of species. It is a restrictive act and not an enabling one and is not well designed to prioritize species for conservation or set research goals.
- Not enough research based on science: While many wildlife ecologists were aware of submissions to the Joint Parliamentary Committee with regard to the sections governing research and other provisions of the Act but despite there are oday large databases on many groups of vertebrates across India, but none of this seems to have been incorporated into the decision-making on the basis of enough research that is based on science.
- Not transparent: The current listing of species in wildlife protection act has no transparent methodology mechanism, which is the crux of the problem as IUCN Red Listing processes have a clear methodology with relatively well-worked-out data-driven criteria that determines whether a species meets the criteria for a specific threat category which should be taken into account.
- Exclusionary: Default conservation actions, whether driven by IUCN or Wild Life Act Schedule priorities tend to be overwhelmingly exclusionary and not inclusive for both species and local communities. Thus, listing species often has little positive conservation impact and negative consequences in many cases.
- Not proper implementation: Real estate sharks are using their money and muscle power or their contacts in the bureaucracy and in the government for not implementing the laws.
- Criminalize forest dwellers: Act criminalize oppressed caste groups for mere residence in and around forest and criminalize day to day activities like collecting minor produce. It Violates the provisions of the constitution and other acts that grant forest dwellers community rights over forests.
THE WAY FORWARD
- Ensuring more viability: Even the IUCN Red List, the global standard for conservation prioritization, clearly states that it is policy-relevant but not policy prescriptive. This means that listing a species as ‘Critically Endangered’ or ‘Endangered’ does not prescribe a single particular course of action for conservation. In other words, the conservation action needed to ensure the viability of two ‘Critically Endangered’ species can be completely different from each other, depending on the biology of the species (body mass, range size, etc.), and the social, economic and political contexts that the species exist in.
- Open access regime for research: There is a need for an open access regime for science and research that can help advance both ecology and conservation in the country with proper regulation and implementation of scientific research.
- Need of democratic approach: There is need for democratic and data-driven approach for conservation prioritization and should be independent of act-based restrictions to conservation actions and approaches. This should comprise a more inclusive set of such approaches that should take into account the country’s true cultural diversity, not just urban elite mindsets and practices.
- Implementation should be equally stringent: To protect the wildlife, not only should the laws be strict but their implementation should also be equally stringent as without proper implementation there is no point of just listing out provisions.
- Increasing dialogue and consultation: There is a need for a process for a broader dialogue between a wide range of ecologists, social scientists, and state agencies so that we can arrive at a formulation that is better for wildlife, people and conservation.
- Need of proper methodology : There is need for proper methodology by prioritization of species for conservation and proper punitive action for violating the Act and by regulation of scientific research.
THE CONCLUSION : Recently amendment act has been 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. However, there are still legal loopholes in the act which need to be addressed by acknowledging and to keep pace with changing moral, ethical and social milieu.
- Wildlife protection has been a constant issue for balancing ecological conservation and rights of local communities. Analyse.
- Discuss the provisions of recently amended Wildlife Protection Act in comparison to provisions of the original Act.