Article by Faisal Patil and Shyama Kuriakose
Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) is the 4th largest illegitimate business with an annual worth of $14 billion. Due to India’s geography and socio-demographic makeup, it acts as an integral focal point for this trade across international markets, putting our hallowed biodiversity at the risk of being extirpated.
Much of this demand is driven by the pet industry and the use of wildlife parts in traditional medicines. Wildlife crimes are relegated to a rung below conventional crimes, especially those involving a human element, and often carry little inherent risk. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) came into force to counter this unregulated trade in wildlife and wildlife articles. This international agreement ensures that any international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants is sustainable and does not pose a threat to the survival of the species in the wild.
The convention has classified species into three distinct categories known as Appendices based on threats to their survival. Appendix I species (ex. Asian elephant) are granted the greatest degree of protection prohibiting all international commercial trade. The importer must prove that the purpose is non-commercial and produce a mandatory import and export certificate. Appendix II species (ex. monocled cobra) may not necessarily be threatened with immediate extinction but are at risk due to unsustainable trade. Although the need for an import certificate has been waived for these species, an export or re-export certificate is necessary. Appendix III species (ex. Indian grey mongoose) are listed at the request of a participating country that requires the cooperation of other countries to limit or restrict unsustainable trade of the particular species.
Although India is a party to the CITES, there exists ambiguity in regulating the trade of non-native/exotic species. Recognising the problem, the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill of 2021 (WLPA Bill) was introduced with the objective of aligning the Act of 1972 with CITES. While the WLPA Bill addresses several aspects, we would like to highlight the amendments pertaining to CITES through this piece.
A new chapter titled “CHAPTER VB: REGULATION OF INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN ENDANGERED SPECIES OF WILD FAUNA AND FLORA AS PER CONVENTION ON INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN ENDANGERED SPECIES OF WILD FAUNA AND FLORA” provides the mechanism for fulfilling government obligations under CITES. The new Schedule IV added in the WLPA lists all the species found in the CITES appendices I, II and III and regulates their trade as prescribed via chapter VB.
The chapter further helps set up a designated Management Authority tasked with granting permissions for the international trade in wild animal and plant specimens and is empowered to fulfil provisions of the convention. Officers not below the rank of Assistant Inspector General of Forests may be delegated to carry out functions of the authority.
The central government is also mandated to designate Scientific Authorities as envisioned in CITES. The authorities will provide guidance on matters related to the survival and well-being of the species being traded and monitor the export permits of species listed in Appendix II of Schedule IV. If the Scientific Authority ascertains that the export of a species may cause its population to fall below a certain threshold, it can advise the Management Authority to take appropriate measures to limit its export. Furthermore, conditions such as valid documents have been imposed for import, export, re-export of exotic species and introduction of species from the sea, failing which the trade can be considered illegal. For instance, in the case of re-export of an exotic species listed in Appendix I and II, a re-export certificate and prior grant are compulsory. Additionally, in the case of live Appendix I species, an import permit will also be required.
Perhaps the most notable features of this newly added chapter are provisions allowing legal possession, transfer and captive breeding of Schedule IV species. Thus, any person in possession of such species is required to make a declaration before the Management Authority which will then issue a registration certificate. This also applies to any future transfers of specimens and in case of an offspring being born to a captive specimen. The Management Authority is required to keep a detailed record of all the above processes for all specimens involved. The WLPA Bill also allows captive breeding of specimens listed in Appendix I of Schedule IV after acquiring permission from the Chief Wildlife Warden. Pursuant to this, the interested parties are provided with a validity of two years that can be renewed for two more years.
Seizures with species associated with an offence under WLPA will be deemed government property. A provision also states that confiscated specimens should be returned to their country of origin, failing which the specimens may be housed in zoos within India. Finally, to prevent any confusion, provisions of WLPA pertaining to Schedule I and II species will apply to all species mentioned in the newly added Schedule IV.
A Parliamentary Standing Committee was set up to review the WLPA Bill, following which, the Bill has been cleared in the Lok Sabha. It now awaits clearance in the Rajya Sabha. The impact of this significant policy decision on the illegal wildlife trade, especially of non-native/exotic species in India, is yet to be examined.