These are our preliminary comments and recommendations on the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2021 (hereafter referred to as the Draft Amendments) tabled before the Rajya Sabha recently to amend the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972 (hereafter referred to as the WLPA).
At the outset, the work that has gone into the Draft Amendments should be appreciated as it has resulted in addressing several concerns of the members of the conservation community in India. The following aspects are especially of note:
- Increasing the ambit of the legislation by using the term “Wildlife” which includes any animal, aquatic or land vegetation which forms part of any habitat.
- Including provisions for addressing the problem of invasive species
- Authorizing WCCB to take the cognizance of the offence and filing of Complaint before the Court.Dropping of permanent listing of species as vermin
- Increasing the penalties for all offences
- Inclusion of species listed under CITES
- Simplifying the categorisation of species under the Schedules.
- Directing CCF to manage wildlife sanctuaries and preparing management plans in consultation with Gram Sabhas in accordance with Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006
- Not allowing the renewal of arms within ten kilometers of a sanctuary except under the intimation to the Chief Wildlife Warden
- Allowing State governments to use Central government land to form conservation reserves
- Allowing the amendment of any entries in the Schedule via notification under section 61
Having stated the above, we would like to submit that the WLPA is an iconic and important piece of legislation in India for wildlife conservation till date. Hence we feel that there are aspects of the Draft Amendments that need careful consideration. We have highlighted some of these below. We urge that more time be given for experts to send detailed responses and also open it to public consultation.
1. Listing of individual species instead of groups (i.e., all Holothurians, all Signathidians, Testudinidae, Tryonychidae, Horbills etc.) is a major deviation from the current Act and will need further consideration. This can give rise to taxonomic ambiguity when identifying species and filing WLORs in many cases. Additionally, many species from these groups have not been included in the current schedules. Also, new species are still getting described -- this is especially true for invertebrates, coral, sponges and amphibians, and these newly reported won’t get due protection as per legislation.
2. Names of species in the Schedules have been misspelt and incorrect naming of species can lead to confusion and uncertainty during legal proceedings. We urge that species names (common and scientific) be standardized as much as possible. This can be done by using the IUCN Red List when possible.
3. We urge that a criteria for including species in Schedules be well defined. Species that have been listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ and ‘Endangered’ under the IUCN Red List should be included in Schedule I and Schedule II (plants) in the absence of other systems for evaluating.
4. We recommend that species from Schedule I and II are not included in Schedule IV as well, especially since Chapter VB legitimizes trade and breeding of these species, while Schedule I and II species do not have this exemption. Listing any native species in Schedule IV will lead to confusion especially since group level listing has been removed.
5. Inclusion of ‘circus’ within the definition of ‘zoo’ can have a very deleterious effect on conservation and is in fact an antithesis to conservation given the stress that animals are put through in circuses. Inclusion of ‘circus’ will also be in direct contradiction to the government’s move towards banning use of animals in circuses of India as was evidenced by a draft notification on November 28, 2018, banning the use of all animals in circuses across the country.
6. It is recommended that research activities be decoupled from the definition of hunting. Currently permission for research is provided as an exemption to prohibition on hunting in Section 9 and permits for the same are provided under Section 12. Research activities for the purpose of wildlife conservation should be seen in a different light and not be clubbed with hunting as that creates a barrier for researchers who are crucial knowledge gatherers helping the cause of conservation. Research itself has several nuances and it would be better if new sections are created within the legislation to regulate the same with adequate safeguards. This would encourage more young researchers and conservation enthusiasts to enter the conservation arena.
7. Breeding of Indian native species included within Schedule IV of Draft Amendments raise concerns. This has hitherto not been the case with wildlife conservation in India and such activities must be approached with great caution and sufficient baselining to understand the ecological and ethical impacts of such breeding.
To read our detailed responses, please click here.