Minister of Environment introduced the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2021, which amends the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, in Lok Sabha on December 17, 2021. The bill seeks to amend the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 for better implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Need for amendment
The government said that amendment in the Wildlife Acai’s needed because of the requirement vis-a-vis the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES, which came into force in July 1975, has assumed responsibility for the survival of almost 35,000 species of plants and animals.
India’s existing Wildlife Protection Act was first introduced in 1972, and it doesn’t comply with some of the requirements of CITES, to which 184 member countries are a party. This had caused CITES to blacklist India once from the trade of these species, and if blacklisted once more, India will be prohibited from trading in some of these crucial species, impacting the livelihood of a large portion of the population.
The text of the bill introduced in the Parliament claimed that the stakeholders wanted reduced compliance burden “in order to encourage a conducive environment for collaborative research and investments, simplify the patent application process, widen the scope of levying access and benefit-sharing with local communities and for further conservation of biological resources”.
Pros: Establishment of ‘State Boards of Wildlife’strengthening the grass-root level
- Wildlife Management Plans for sanctuaries and national parks across the country will now become a part of the Wildlife Act and will have to be approved by the Chief Wildlife Warden of the state, thereby increasing the scope for stricter protection for various species
- The bill ensures clarity and ensures better care of seized live animals and disposal of seized wildlife parts and products
- Decentralizing the functions of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), with the establishment of Standing Committees of State Boards of Wildlife, to strengthen the grass-root level
- Ensure the efficiency and speedy disposal of functions
- Ensure far stricter protection to the protected areas such as National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries
- The bill also aims to streamline the schedules mentioned in the original Act, shrinking them from six to four. The schedule is a categorization of wildlife depending on how critically endangered they are
- Gun license around protected areas (Pas) has been restricted up to 10 km radius against 5 km earlier
Cons: No accountability board
- 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.
- Another amendment in the bill has given excessive delegation and unrestricted power to the Central government to declare a species as vermin. 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.
- By Decentralising the functions of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), the State Board for Wildlife would be rendered defunct. It is important to point out that NBWL, headed by the Prime Minister, has not met since 2014. All its statutory functions are carried out by the Standing Committee, with no accountability board.
- 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. It is not a welcome move since protected areas are already overcrowded with tourists.
- Amendment of the Schedules under Amendment Clause 41 (page 13) to rationalize the schedules and use updated taxonomy is welcome. However, many species/species groups are missing from the Schedule. Apart from mammals, most other faunal groups are incompletely listed, especially amphibians and reptiles. In addition, the basis or criteria for inclusion/exclusion is not clear.
- Detailed lists of species, focusing on birds, that need to be included or reorganized within Schedules.
- The bill also lacks to encourage the importance of including research and habitats in the Preamble and creating enabling provisions
The need of the hour
In conclusion, the amendments are more technical and the need of the hour is to plug loopholes in the field of wildlife protection, conservation, and management. When the Bill was first proposed in October this year, it had irked activists and environmentalists in the country because the provisions for the amendment were not publicized, and neither were they made available in vernacular languages. Legal advocacy firm, Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) terming it as “a Bill aimed to facilitate the destruction of India’s Biodiversity and usurp people’s right”. Activists are of the opinion that enough time should have been given to raise objections and seek clarification on the provisions of the Bill.
Talking about the Bill, Ritwick Dutta, an environmental lawyer head at LIFE said that “on the positive part, the bill is intended to ensure that provisions with respect to the Convention are part of the domestic law. Besides, the Bill aims to also make the law simple by streamlining the schedules. However, there are issues of concern which need to be addressed.”