Kochi:India’s Wild Life (Protection) Act (or WLPA) was enacted 50 years ago as its main law to conserve and protect its wildlife. The Union environment ministry announced in December 2021 a plan to amend the Act in positive and negative ways. Experts believe that this could remove protections for scores animal, bird, plant, and insect species, and endanger yet other species, while simultaneously introducing unscientific or populist policies in the country.
The WLPA prohibits hunting wildlife and provides legal protections for different species based upon their threat status. It also regulates trade in wild species and regulates commerce in them.
The Act has been amended numerous times in 1982, 1986 and 1993, 1993, 1992, 1993, 1992, 2003, 2006, and 2013.
The proposed amendment is probably the most comprehensive so far. It covers more legislative areas, from wild species trade to filmmaking in protected zones and controlling the spread invasive species.
First, the good news.
The Bill increases penalties for wildlife crimes. For example, wildlife crimes that used to attract a fine of Rs.25,000 now attract Rs. 1 lakh. A separate chapter has been added to the CITES agreement that regulates international trade in species.
The Bill specifically prohibits the possession, trading, and breeding of species without permission from CITES authorities.
India joined CITES in 1976. However, activities that help India abide by CITESs provisions were not included in the WLPA amendment of 2013. The proposal Bill, according to Wildlife Conservation Trust of Mumbai, was a promising step but required further refinements for seamless implementation.
The Bill also recognizes the threats posed by invasive alien species. These species aren’t indigenous to the country. They can quickly degrade an ecosystem if they’re introduced. Mesquite, a weed, is an example.
Many experts who submitted their opinions to the Standing Committee on the Bill called it a welcome and appreciated step.
The Bill is missing one thing: it doesn’t include RegionalInvasive species include species that are native to the country but have become invasive in other parts. The spotted deer (or chital) is a native Indian species, but is now invasive on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Deepa Padmar, a research fellow at the Vidhi Centre of Legal Policy, stated in her assessment that the definition of invasive species should include two categories Invasive Native species and Invasive Alien species to limit the spread of Indian species known to have invasive properties.
Now, the bad news.
The WLPA has six Schedules, or Lists, at the end. These lists describe the management and protection actions applicable to different species.
Schedule I species, such as tigers or great Indian bustards, are the most protected. These species are also subject to the most severe wildlife crimes. Schedule V lists vermin species. The Act doesn’t define vermin but does say that it includes animals. canbe hunted. The WLPA allows the Centre to declare wild animals upon notification. OtherThere are more vermin than those in Schedule I.
This could be changed by the proposed amendment. The amendment Bill does not have a separate Schedule for species that the Act defines as vermin. Therefore, the Centre can directly notify such species to allow them to be hunted, including some species currently listed in Schedule II.
According to comments sent by the Vidhi Center for Legal Policy to the Standing Committee this change could potentially impact at least 41 species mammals, 864 birds and 17 reptiles-amphibians as well as 58 insects. This is one of the main concerns for ecologists as well as legal experts.
Schedule II includes species that are rare but whose numbers are declining. The IUCN Red List lists the striped hyena as near threatened.
The Biodiversity Collaboration and the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment Bengaluru (ATREE), wrote in a joint letter to the Standing Committee expressing concern at the Bill’s continuation of the idea that vermin is a colonial root. Apoorva and Malavika Parthasarathy, legal researchers, wrote in The Wire Science2020: The concept of vermin is also in violation of Articles 14-21 of the Constitution. This guarantees equal protection before law and extends the rights of life to animals.
But if the Bill passes, vermin will prevail. This is because the label and the threat of being hunted could also be applied to other species.
ATREE also stated that it should be transparent and accountable, based on ecological evidence and social evidence, to identify these species and to specify the time and area they can be hunted. These species must be regularly monitored to ensure they are not over-hunted.
The Bill proposes changes to Schedules. It reduces the number six Schedules to four to simplify the lists. However, the two main substitute schedules are full of spelling errors in species names that will identify the protected species. Many species that are currently listed in the Act have been removed because they are missing.
T.R. T.R. The Wire ScienceThe amended Schedules do not include at least 446 bird species from India, many of which are endangered, and hundreds more plant and animal species that merit protection under Schedules I through III.
Raman sent an email expressing concern that there is not a clear process or criteria for registering species as protected species under Schedules I to III or vermin or invasive species. It is important that scientists provide inputs and consult widely about the listing (or delisting), of species. This should not be done by the Centre without broad consultations.
Authorities could use the Act’s exclusion of species from a Schedule to advance development projects without having a hand in protecting the species habitats. Raman said that this is especially true of Schedule I species.
According to NCF, the Nicobar imperial Pigeon, for example, is an endemic bird of the Nicobar islands. It is also one of the 446 bird types that was not included in the proposed Bill. It is illegal to kill this bird, even accidentally, because it is a Schedule IV-listed species. Current Act. However, the proposed Bill exempts it from all Schedules, leaving it vulnerable for the mega-project that the Centre has planned to build for the islands.
Toothless state boards
The Bill will also defund the existing State Boards for Wildlife, as the Delhi-based Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment wrote in its assessment.
The state boards of wildlife currently manage the conservation and protection of wild animals at the state level. The state chief minister is the head of the board. He is supported by more than 20 members, including the state legislature, conservationists, NGOs, conservationists, representatives of state forest departments, tribal welfare, and representatives of conservationists.
If the Bill is passed, it will create a Standing Committee of State Board of Wildlife, headed by the state forest minister, and 10 members appointed by the minister. The Standing Committee can function with only two members, the minister and an appointed member, if necessary.
The state governments will be able to approve all proposals for wild areas and conservation policies.
The moment the [current]Because of their composition, State Boards are still able speak in the interests of wildlife, LIFEs comment said. Once the Standing Committee of the State Board has been constituted, this will no longer be the case.
This way of doing business is reminiscent of Uttarakhand’s current state of affairs. The state is expanding Dehradun’s Jolly Grant Airport. As part of this expansion, it denotified a forest area of the Shivalik Elephant Reserve. The state was enraged by the move. However, the Union environment ministry intervened in 2020 to ask the state government to look at alternative land. State forest officials chose to ignore the advice and go ahead with their plans.
In June 2020, the Uttarakhand State Wildlife Board established a standing committee to facilitate the process of opening forested land for development. The CEO of the Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board was one of the members of the committee.
Commercial trade in live Elephants
Currently, Sections 40 and 43 of the WLPA allow people to acquire and transport live, captive elephants with Prior approvalAs long as it does not involve commercial transactions (i.e. selling elephants).
The third problem is that the proposed Bill exempts elephants from these sections. LIFE stated that the Act will no longer prohibit the sale or purchase of endangered species.
As other conservationists pointed out, this clause is prone for abuse and can severely impact elephant population. It legitimizes live trade of Elephants, revives a now-dying illegal trading in wild-caught Elephants, and so negating years worth of successful conservation efforts. Varun Ghoswami, a senior scientist, director of Conservation Initiatives (CI), a trust that works to conserve wildlife and habitat in the northeast, stated in CIs Letter to the Standing Committee.
Expert teams also felt that the Bill offered a good opportunity for decentralisation of research by making WLPA more enabling for wildlife researchers. This is a long-standing need of the research community. The Wire ScienceRecently reported.
Currently, the WLPA grants research permits as an ExemptionAccording to scientists and legal experts at Wildlife Conservation Society-India, hunting is prohibited under Sections 9 and 12.
This view makes research involving wild animals a hunting offense, according to their letter to the Standing Committee.
The Bill must address research activities Per seIt is not an exception to hunting.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee, chaired by Jairam Ramesh (ex-environment minister) is scheduled to examine the Bill and the expert contributions. However, there is no date. Hasn’t been set.