This article is written by Gursimran Kaur Bakshi, a student at the National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi. This article analyses the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and how it has impacted the development of wildlife protection in India.
Every year, Earth Day is celebrated on 22nd April. This year the world celebrated the 51st Earth Day with the theme ‘Restoring our Earth.’ India too celebrated this day. But in this same year, the news of how poaching of wildlife animals has doubled during the lockdown in India was also reported. This makes the theme truly realistic as it shows that we have lost touch with mother earth.
The Supreme Court of India in T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union Of India (2012) referred to a quote, “The universe along with its creatures belongs to the Lord. No creature is superior to any other. Human beings should not be above nature. Let no one species encroach over the rights and privileges of other species.”
This quote was referred to for a reason. It was to emphasize the quintessential importance of preserving and conserving the environment and its components. Nature is the creator and the destroyer.
According to Charles Darwin, only the fittest is meant to survive. As a creator, nature exists through the flora and fauna in an ecosystem to sustain life. However, in the last few decades, mankind has introduced changes that are detrimental to the existence of both flora and fauna.
These are mostly artificial changes that have certainly interfered with nature’s way of working. It has resulted in climate change, modification in the natural habitats of the animals, and pollution due to deforestation to name a few.
Earlier, there were boundaries existing between human civilization and that of flora and fauna. But the unnatural changes in the environment have now diminished that boundary resulting in human-wildlife conflict. That is the reason why wildlife animals are now often found wandering outside their habitat. This is because humans have hampered the equilibrium that existed.
Let’s understand the laws that impact the protection and conservation of wildlife in India.
Protection of wildlife in India
In India, wildlife conservation and protection are maintained under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (‘The Act’). The Act is a product of the times when environmental jurisprudence was rapidly developing in India with due credit to judicial activism.
The Act was enacted keeping in mind that all previous laws such as the Wild Birds and Animals Protection Act, 1912 were insufficient. The current Act is comprehensive and covers all the gaps that were present in the earlier laws.
However, there are still substantive gaps existing in the present law. There is a vacuum between the theoretical law and its practical implementation. Further, the objective of the Act has also been diluted due to bureaucratic interference.
Overview of the Constitutional framework on wildlife protection
The Constitutional framework for the protection of wildlife, forest, and environment are present under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The right to life includes the right of living in a clean and healthy environment.
Article 48A of the Directive Principle of State Policy puts a non-binding obligation on the state to protect and conserve the environment and to safeguard forest and wildlife. Article 51A(g), too, puts a non-binding obligation on the citizens to protect the forest, wildlife, rivers, and animals of the country.
These obligations have been fulfilled by both the central and the state governments by adding the term ‘forest’ under Entry 17A and protection of wildlife and birds to Entry 17B of the Concurrent List by 42nd Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1976.
There is a set of laws that concerns itself with environmental protection and wildlife which are:
- Environmental Protection Act, 1986
- Forest Conservation Act, 1980
- Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
- Wildlife Protection Act, 1972
- Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act,1974
Overview of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1912
The Act is a small piece of model legislation that only covered birds and animals specified as per the Schedule present under the Act. It gave the State Governments the power to protect and preserve animals and birds as per Section 3. Section 3 also prohibited the capturing, killing, selling, buying, possessing of the animals including their plumage (feathers).
Section 4 granted an exemption to Section 3, only when the state government was of the opinion that the above-mentioned measures are in the interest of scientific research. A person can then be granted a license subjected to further restrictions if any.
Another exception was available under Section 3. The exception allowed a person to kill or capture animals and birth in self-defence of himself, or other, or in the self-defence of property.
Overview of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972
The Wildlife Protection Act protects all kinds of animals from amphibians to birds, mammals, and reptiles under Section 2(1). The definition is exhaustive and can accommodate a variety of animals within the scope of protection. The Act extends protection to specified plants that cannot be destroyed and damaged without the approval of the government.
Important provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972
Director of Wildlife and Chief Life Warden
Director of wildlife preservation
- The Central Government is empowered to appoint the Director of Wildlife Preservation under Section 3.
- The Director shall be subjected to general or specific directions by the Central Government.
- The Central Government can also appoint any other officers as it may be deemed necessary.
Chief Wildlife Warden
- The State Government is required to appoint the Chief Wildlife Warden, Wildlife Wardens, and Honorary Wildlife Wardens under Section 4 respectively.
- The Chief Wildlife Warden will be subject to the general or special directions of the State Government.
Power of delegation of the Director of wildlife preservation and Chief Wildlife Warden
- The respective persons in position, such as the Director and the Chief Wildlife Warden, are supposed to report it to the respective governments.
- They are empowered under Section 5 to delegate their powers with the prior approval of their governments and by order in writing.
Constitution of the National Board for Wildlife
Composition of the Board
- The Prime Minister is the chairperson of the National Board of Wildlife.
- The Board is to be constituted within three months of the amendment in the Act.
- The function of the Board, as specified under Section 5C, is to promote the conservation and development of wildlife and forest.
- It can also frame policies and advise the central and the state governments on ways and means of promoting wildlife conservation and effectively controlling poaching and illegal trade of wildlife and its products.
Duties of Board
- The Board is supposed to publish a status report at least once in two years on the condition of wildlife conservation in the country.
- The Board is required to make recommendations on the setting up of and management of national parks, sanctuaries, and other protected areas where certain activities are prohibited.
- The Board can declare protected areas under the Act as sanctuaries and national parks under Section 18 and Section 35 respectively.
- The Board can delegate its duties to the Standing Committee under Section 5B(1).
Constitution of the State Board for Wildlife
- The Act also establishes a State Board for Wildlife under Section 6 with the Chief Minister of the State as its Chairperson and the Administrator, as the case may be, in the Union Territory.
- The Board includes ten persons to be nominated by the state government from amongst eminent conservationists, ecologists, and environmentalists including at least two representatives of the Scheduled Tribes.
- The National Board is also supposed to nominate ten persons at the central level.
About the procedure and duties of the State Board
- The State Board is required to meet at least twice a year under Section 7.
- They are under an obligation to advise the state government to formulate policies for the protection and conservation of wildlife and specified plants under Section 8.
- They are also required to advice for the selection and management of areas to be declared as protected areas.
- Further, they have to advice in matters relating to the amendment under the Fourth and Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, including measures to be taken for harmonising the needs of the tribals and other forest dwellers.
Hunting and poaching are prohibited under the Act with exceptions
The Act prohibits hunting of wild animals specified in Schedules I, II, III, and IV including Indian Elephant, Indian Lion, Snow Leopard, Tiger, and Great Indian Bustard to name a few under Section 9. However, the ban on hunting is not absolute and it can be permitted in certain cases under Section 11.
Hunting under Section 11
- Wildlife animals protected under Schedule I of the Act can be hunted only by the permission of the Chief Wildlife Warden. Only if that animal proves to be dangerous to the life of the human being or is so disabled or diseased as to be beyond recovery.
- The Chief Wildlife warden can permit, by an order in writing and on his satisfaction with reasons, that the animal cannot be captured, tranquilised, or translocated in such a manner as to cause minimum trauma to the animal.
- Capturing the animal to be kept in captivity has to be done only when the Chief Wildlife Warden is satisfied that the animal cannot be rehabilitated.
- Wildlife animals under Schedule II, III, and IV can be hunted by the permission of the Chief Wildlife Warden or the authorised officer if that animal has become dangerous to human life or property (including standing crops on any land).
- The animal can also be hunted, if it is disabled or diseased as to be beyond recovery. The same process has to be followed by the Chief Wildlife Warden to permit the hunting of animals or a group of animals for the specified reason in the specified area.
- Section 11 also allows the hunting or wounding of any wild animal in bodily defence only if it has to be done in good faith and that harmed animal will be the government’s property. But claiming defence should not preclude the person’s liability under the Act if he was committing an offence under it.
Hunting under Section 12 is permitted
- Apart from these, the Chief Wildlife Warden can permit hunting for the purpose of education, scientific research, and scientific management to a person who has fulfilled the requisites under Section 12 including the payment of prescribed fees.
Hunting rights of scheduled tribes under Section 65
- Section 65 protects the hunting rights of the scheduled tribes in the Union Territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Island which shall not be affected by any provision under the Act.
Under Section 39 hunted animals to be government property
- Any animal held captive or hunted under any provision of this Act or under Section 11 or Section 29(1) or Section 35(6), or are found dead or killed by mistake will belong to the state government.
- But this shall not include vermin. Vermin are pests that cause nuisance and the central government has the authority to declare any wildlife as vermin under Section 62.
- Any animal trophy, article, or uncured trophy or meat derived from the animals referred above will also belong to the government.
- If the animal is hunted in a sanctuary or national park declared by the central government, then that property shall belong to the central government under Section 39(1).
Under Section 51 on the violation of laws under the Wildlife Act
- Under Section 51 of the Act, any violation of the laws and rules as specified under the Act will lead to imprisonment which may extend to three years, and a fine which may extend to twenty-five thousand rupees.
- Any offence against the wildlife animals protected under Schedule I or Part II of Schedule II would lead to imprisonment for a minimum of three years and a minimum fine of ten thousand rupees.
- Further, if the meat of any such animal as specified in the above category, or animal article, trophy, or uncured trophy derived from such animal, this will also be punishable as same as above.
- Lastly, if the offence relates to the hunting of animals in a sanctuary or a National Park, this will also be punishable as the same as above.
- Subsequent violations will result in the punishment for a maximum of three years and a minimum fine of twenty-five thousand.
- The Court, trying the accused persons in the above offence, can order the state government to forfeit any of the materials made out of the wildlife animal. The license of the person can also be seized.
The recognition of protected areas under the Act
- The Act categorises certain areas as protected areas in the form of sanctuaries and national parks under Section 18 and Section 35 respectively.
Sanctuaries as a protected area
- Under Section 18, the State Government can declare a certain area as a sanctuary, if it has adequate ecological, faunal, floral, geomorphological, natural, or zoological significance, for the purpose of protecting, propagating or developing wildlife or its environment.
- Currently, there are 566 wildlife sanctuaries existing in India.
- Recently, Ramgarh Wildlife Sanctuary was declared as the 52nd wildlife sanctuary by the state government of Rajasthan and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (‘NTCA’).
- For the purpose of declaring a sanctuary, the area must not be a reserve forest or territorial waters and a visiting permit can be given for the purpose of scientific research, tourism, photography, and transacting lawful business with the person residing in the sanctuary.
On the rights of persons affected
- The rights of the persons affected when the government acquires land for the purpose of establishing a sanctuary will be dealt with by the collector appointed by the State Government.
- The collector is supposed to publish a notification in the regional language and any person having objection can file the same in writing and within two months of such proclamation as specified under Section 21.
- The Act further allows the collector to inquire on the objections which he may accept or reject, based on his finding.
- Once the objections are rejected, the collector is required to go forth on the proceedings to acquire the lands in pursuance of his powers under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (as amended in Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013).
National parks as a protected area
- Under Section 35, the State Government can declare an area as a national park based on its ecological, faunal, floral, geomorphological, or zoological importance. That area may also be a sanctuary.
- The State Government shall vest the land rights of that area but cannot alter its boundaries without the prior approval of the national wildlife board.
- No person has the right to destroy or damage the forest produce or divert the wildlife habitat of any animals in the national park.
- Currently, there are 104 national parks recognised and existing in India under the Act.
Central Government’s power to declare the National Tiger Conservation Authority
- The Central Government has the power to declare an area as a sanctuary or national park under Section 38, provided that the requirements of Section 18 are fulfilled.
Under Section 38K
- The central authority for the conservation of tigers known as the NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority) can also be declared by the government under Section 38K.
Under Section 38L
- The Constitution of the NTCA is specified under Section 38L. The NTCA is headed by the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change as its chairperson.
- It also includes a vice-chairperson, three members of the Parliament, eight experts or professionals with qualified knowledge in wildlife and the welfare of people living in tiger reserves, including several other members.
Under Section 38O
- The functions and powers of NTCA as specified under Section 38O include approving the Tiger Conservation Plan made by the state government under Section 38V.
- The Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 2006, added Section 38V which talks about the tiger conservation plan and allows the state government in consultation with the NTCA to declare a particular area as a tiger reserve.
- NTCA has to lay down normative standards for tourism activities including guidelines for project tiger.
- It has to ensure that the protected areas including tiger reserves and areas linking one protected area to another are not diverted for ecologically unsustainable uses.
Under Section 38U
- A Steering Committee is also to be constituted under the Act for the purpose of the state governments to monitor, protect, conserve tigers and co-predators under Section 38U.
- The Steering Committee shall be headed by the chief ministers of the respective states and the state Minister-in-charge of the wildlife as the vice-chairperson.
Under Section 38V
- Section 38V deals with the tiger conservation plan. The plan is to be prepared by the state government. It includes staff development and a deployment plan for the proper management of a tiger reserve.
- Tiger reserves shall also include core or critical tiger habitats areas of national parks and sanctuaries. It may also include buffer and peripheral areas as well.
- The plan must ensure the protection of tiger reserves, ecologically compatible land uses in the tiger reserves, and other areas linking the protected areas for the purpose of ensuring livelihood concerns of the local people and providing site-specific habitat inputs for an increase in tiger population.
Under Section 38X
- Section 38X allows a State Government to establish a tiger conservation foundation within the state to facilitate and support the working of the tiger conversation.
- To facilitate the ecological, social, and cultural development of the tiger reserves and to promote eco-tourism.
Central Zoo authority
Zoos play a vital role in the preservation of wild animals. Section 38A to 38J establishes central zoo authority in India with the objective to conserve biodiversity, particularly animals as per the National Zoo Policy, 1998 and the National Zoo Rules, 1992 (as amended in 2009).
Under Section 38A
- Section 38A allows the Central Government to establish a central zoo authority with the chairperson, member-secretary, and ten other persons as its members.
- These members shall be appointed by the Central Government.
Under Section 38B
- The chairperson and the other ten members shall hold the office for three years and they can send their resignation letter to the central government under Section 38B.
- The Central Government can remove the chairperson and other members from the office, if they become insolvent, get convicted, becomes or are declared as of unsound mind, and refuses to act.
Function and procedure of the zoo authority
- The authority is supposed to recognise and derecognise a zoo and assess the functioning of zoos under Section 38C.
- The recognition of a zoo takes place as per the conditions laid down under Section 38H.
- It also has to ensure the coordination of training of zoo personnel in India and outside.
- The authority is required to lay down the minimum standards for housing, upkeep, and veterinary care of the animals in zoos.
- The authority has the right to regulate its own procedure under Section 38D.
Trade and commerce in wildlife
- No person shall have the possession, control, custody, sell or offer for sale animals including the trophy or uncured trophy, article, salted or dried skins of such animals belonging to Schedule I or Part II of Schedule II, without the prior permission of the chief wildlife warden of the state under Section 40.
- Animals belonging to Schedule I or Part II of Schedule II are termed as scheduled animals as per Section 49A(a).
- An exception to Section 40 is Section 40(A) where the Central Government, by notification, may allow the same without a declaration.
- If persons are in possession of the animals, animal articles, or trophies, before the commencement of the Act, they must declare it to the chief wildlife warden within 30 days the number and description of animals.
- No person can acquire, receive, possess, custody, or keep in control of any scheduled animal after the 2003 Amendment.
- Any person inheriting the same shall also make a declaration within 90 days to the Chief Wildlife Warden under Section 40(2B).
- A lawful possession under Section 40 can also be acquired as per Section 42 by the Chief Wildlife Warden. A certificate of ownership will allow the person to keep the animals in custody or in possession. However, the sale or transfer of the animals even after the certificate of ownership is prohibited under Section 43 without proper authorisation from the Chief Wildlife Warden.
- A person who has acquired the license cannot capture, control, or take possession of the animal, animal article, uncured trophy, or trophy if a declaration has not been made under Section 44(2). A licensee cannot offer for sale or transport the animals.
- Further, no person can commence a business as a manufacturer or dealer of any animal trophies or articles derived from the scheduled animal under Section 49(B).
Prevention of offence under the Act
- The authority to arrest, enter, search, and detention rests with the Director, Chief Wildlife Warden, Forest Officer, and police officer, not below the rank of sub-inspector under Section 50.
- The authorises can require such persons to produce for the purpose of inspection any animal, animal article, trophy, specified plant, etc.
- They can stop and research any vehicle or conduct an inquiry by entering upon a premise or land and seize any captive animal, article, trophy, or uncured trophy, etc. Any person detained shall be taken to the Magistrate.
- The power to issue an arrest warrant, compel the attendance of witnesses, receive and record evidence is given to any officer, not below the rank of an Assistant Director of Wildlife Preservation or an officer not below the rank of Assistant Conservator of Forests authorised by the State Government.
The current status of development wildlife under the Act
Project tiger conservation
Project Tiger Conservation was launched in 1973 to ensure and maintain the population of Bengal tigers. The project tiger is still ongoing with the help of the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change.
It allows for the adoption of a conservation plan as specified under Section 38V by the state government for the protection of tiger reserves and their specific habitats. This is for maintaining their population. It is also to maintain ecologically compatible land used in tiger reserves including the linking of it with other protected areas to name a few.
India along with the Kingdom of Bhutan, Bangladesh, Russia, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and Nepal also entered into the St. Petersburg Declaration to save the remaining tigers in the wild who are on the verge of imminent extinction.
Further, the NTCA in collaboration with the Wildlife Institute of India has published a document ‘Connecting Tiger Populations for Long-term Conservation’ under which:
- Thirty-two tiger corridors have been identified for managing tiger movements.
- These corridors help in streamlining the infrastructure projects and at the same time include mitigation measures for the safe passage of tigers.
The Eco-friendly Measures to Mitigate Impact of Liner Infrastructure Report is based on ‘development without destruction’ and allows for mainstreaming biodiversity at every stage of the development process.
This could have been possible by making suitable changes in various legislations such as the Forest Conservation Act, 1980; Coastal Regulation Zone Notification 2011; Forest Rights Act, 2006 and the Environment Impact Assessment Notification of 2006 (as amended in 2009). All of these legislations are in consonance with the objectives under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Project elephant is a central scheme that was launched by the central government in 1992. It proposed a National Elephant Conversation Authority under it to extend financial assistance to states for the protection and conservation of elephants.
They are included in Schedule I of the Act. Project tiger has also implemented the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (‘MIKES’). Certain elephant corridors were also identified under the 2010 Report of the Elephant Task Force under the Ministry of Forest, Environment, and Climate Change. Total 88 corridors were identified under the Act.
The Courts have also come forward for the protection of elephant corridors. In a landmark judgment of A. Rangarajan v. UOI (2018), the Court ordered the Tamil Nadu government to close all the illegal resorts in the Nilgiri hills within 48 hours as around that area, the main elephant corridor is there.
Conservation reserves and community reserves as protected areas added by the 2003 amendment
There has been a continuous amendment in the Acts such as the 2003 Amendment that extended the concept of the protected area beyond the sanctuary and national park to include conservation reserves and community reserves under Section 36A and Section 36C respectively.
Conservation and community reserves are referred to as buffer zones and migration corridors which are established in between the protected areas such as the national parks and sanctuaries. Currently, there are 97 conversation reserves and 214 community reserves respectively. Recently, in 2020, Tillari in Maharashtra was declared as a conservation reserve.
This was proposed in the National Wildlife Plan (2002-16). The centrally sponsored scheme (Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats) was based on the principle of ecocentrism which is nature-centric and allows the human interest to be harmoniously balanced with non-human needs. Protected areas are important and have been globally accepted within the planning approach for the protection of wildlife and conservation of biodiversity.
Recently, India’s first urban wildlife corridor is being planned between New Delhi and Haryana. The corridor is near the Asola Bhatti wildlife sanctuary to provide safe passage to wildlife animals such as leopards and other animals.
Wildlife corridors hold a lot of importance in India as these are connected with the protected areas and allow the movement of animals without interfering in human settlement. Often animals in the southern region travel from the protected reserves to other places in search of water.
In such cases, wildlife corridors play a major role such as the Mudahalli Elephant Corridor is connected with the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve which usually faces drought during summers. Because of this, many mammals migrate to Karnataka and Kerala forests in search of water. But because of the corridor, the movement of animals did not interfere with the human population.
That is why wildlife corridors are important to minimise human-wildlife conflict.
What all need development under the Act
Issues of poaching and illegal trading persist
The issue of illegal poaching and trading has not been effective as it is still prevalent in many parts of India such as the smuggling of ivory tusk in Karnataka and Odisha. According to the World Wide Fund (‘WWF’) for Nature’s wildlife trade monitoring network (TRAFFIC), the demand for wildlife doubled during lockdown since people took up trading in wildlife as an alternative source of income. There was also an increase in the demand for meat consumption.
In states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Jharkhand, Pangolin may become an extinct species as there is an alarming increase in the seizure of its scale and meat.
Using animal skin has been a constant threat to wildlife in India. During the lockdown, since a lot of people took up trading, the use of animal skin such as that of Leopard increased too. In Jammu, the Wild Life Protection Department seized leopard skin and other body parts. Leopard is protected under Schedule I of the Wild Life Protection Act.
Recently, in Odisha, more than 10 leopard skins were seized in three different districts. In the last year, more than 26 leopards have been poached. In one decade, 150 leopards have been poached and hunted across Odisha and their skin and bones have been traded for money in the international market.
The Act does not cover obligations under CITES
Further, the government has recently approved the Char Dham project which is in conflict with the objective of the Act. The Act does not cover India’s obligation under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (‘CITES’). The CITES is an international treaty that regulates the trade of wildlife species so that their survival is not endangered.
Moreover, the government on 11th June 2020, passed an advisory granting amnesty to individuals in possession of exotic life specifies protected under CITES. Exotic live species under CITES are those animals or plants that have moved from their original location to a new one. Since then, the trafficking of exotic live species has increased drastically. According to the Smuggling in India Report 2019-2020, there is a considerable increase in the smuggling of endangered and exotic fauna from different parts of the world to India. This is unfortunate.
Freshwater fish species remain threatened
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (‘IUCL’) Red List, freshwater fish species are currently declining in India. But they are still not at the edge of extinction. The contributors to that are pollution, decreasing water levels, and the loss of river habitats since fisheries experts are not consulted before building dams in India.
Great Indian Bustard remains endangered
Great Indian Bustards (‘GIB’) are dying in the different sanctuaries because of collisions with windmills and overhead cables. Recently, as reported by the Gujarat government in the last year no GIB has been spotted in the Kutch Bustard Sanctuary.
Consistent decline in the population of migratory birds
India’s bird population is sharply declining including that of migratory birds according to the State of Birds’ Report 2020 by 80%. The population of migratory birds is declining because of contractual farming and constant inference in the birds’ habitats. Migratory shorebirds, gulls, and terns have declined the most and this could be a long-term decline. Some resident water birds such as swamphens, coots, and storks have declined too.
The Act does not address issues relating to climate change
Further, the law is not updated to accommodate climate change-related concerns and rapidly rising sea levels in the Sundarbans region of India and Bangladesh.
Wildlife development versus economic development
The impact of the act has not been very consistent especially, in recent years where the focus of the government has tremendously shifted to aggressive development whereas, the idea was to follow sustainable development by fulfilling the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future generation.
The recent policies of the government or the existing acts too reflect the same notion. For instance, the power of the collector to acquire the land under the Act is the same as that in the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
The amended act named the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, allows the government to acquire land without the required social impact assessment, in urgent cases.
Section 40 of the 2013 Act deals with a situation where the government acquires land for the purpose of national security or defence purposes, or any natural calamity or emergency. Even though this provision might not directly impact the working under the Wildlife Act, it does anyway dilute the power of the collector.
The 2013 Act also allows for the government to acquire land of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes.
Further, the national wildlife board has cleared certain infrastructural projects such as a railway line through the Kawal Tiger Corridor in Telangana and the railway expansion through the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mollem National Park in Goa.
The Supreme Court came down heavily on the government for giving the clearance for the railway expansion in Goa. The Court’s Central Empowered Committee constituted to study whether the clearance should be given or not has termed that the area has a fragile ecosystem. And the railway expansion will destroy it.
These wildlife clearances without proper environmental impact assessment are directly attributed to bureaucratic interference.
- State of Bihar v, Murad Ali Khan, Farukh Salauddin (1988) is a case that dealt with poaching and hunting of elephants for the smuggling of ivory tusks where the court observed that the “largest single factor in the depletion of the wealth of animal life in nature has been the civilised man operating directly through excessive commercial hunting”.
- In Balram Kumawat v. UOI (2003), the court re-emphasised that the act puts a complete ban on the trade of African elephant ivory and there cannot be a legitimate claim of violation of the right to freedom of trade under Article 14 and Article 19(1)(g) since the ban is a reasonable restriction under Article 19(2).
- Sansar Chand v. State Of Rajasthan (2010) highlighted the detrimental effect legal trading and commerce of wildlife has caused to the environment and the same is not effectively curbed despite the prohibition under the Wildlife Act. These organised crimes are transnational because there is apparently no trade taking place within India but the same is smuggled outside India to meet the demands of other countries such as poaching of tigers for the Chinese medical industry.
- In Mahaveer Nath v. UOI (2019), the constitutional validity of Sections 9 and 11 was challenged on the ground that the restrictions mentioned under those Sections deprived the petitioner of his right to livelihood.
- The petitioner is a member of the Nath/Sapera community who is deprived to carry out the vocation of snake charming for his livelihood except on certain days where snakes are worshipped. This community was referred to as “barefoot conservative educators” to highlight their vital role in sensitizing people to reptiles.
- The petition was challenged on the ground that Section 9 has resulted in the prohibition of keeping of snakes and thus, it violates the fundamental right to trade under Article 19(1)(g) and Article 21 of the Constitution. The Court observed that Article 19(1)(g) is not an absolute right but a qualified right and reasonable restrictions can be imposed on the same for the general welfare of the public.
The Act is comprehensive and covers almost every aspect of protecting and conserving wildlife. The law’s exhaustiveness is reflected from the fact that it allows for the establishment of numerous committees and authorities that would exercise powers with specific goals such as the Tiger conservation authority. It also allows for the delegation of powers.
But with such division of powers to different authorities at times create the issue of accountability since the powers are dispersed. Too many committees and authorities tend to dilute the objective of the act the more power gets divided the better chances of failure in monitoring it arises.
The need is to have a strong regulatory framework at the centre that can create checks and balances within the sub-framework. Because just making different committees and assigning work to different authorities will not lead to wildlife conservation unless the implementation of the Act gets better. There is also a strong system needed for the protection of animals from hunting and poaching.
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