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This article is written by Paridhi Dave, a student at the Institute of Law, Nirma University. This is an exhaustive article that elucidates upon the top Conservation Projects for wildlife in India along with case laws.

Introduction

Wildlife is defined under Section 2(37) of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 to include any animal, either aquatic or terrestrial and vegetation that forms a part of any habitat.

Wildlife plays a significant role in the ecosystem. It has a crucial role in balancing the environment. The importance also extends to the spheres of economic importance, investigatory importance, gene bank, conservation of biological diversities, cultural importance, etc.

In India, there are various laws for the protection and conservation of wildlife, as well as overall biodiversity. The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 is legislation that has been implemented for the protection of wild animals, birds, and plants with a view of ensuring the ecological and environmental security of India. In addition, a Wildlife Crime Control Bureau has also been established to curb the illegal trade of wildlife, including endangered species.

Legal Provisions governing wildlife in India

In the Constitution of India, 1950 under Article 51A(g), it is a fundamental duty of the citizens to protect wildlife and have compassion for living creatures. Apart from this, Article 48A provides that it is also the duty of the State to protect, safeguard and work for the improvement of forests and wildlife of the country. The subject of protection of wild animals and birds is enlisted under the Concurrent List of the Constitution, i.e., Schedule VII List III. This depicts that both the Union and the State Government have the power to govern the subject.

International Treaties governing Wildlife

International wildlife law can prove to be a useful tool in enhancing the conservation of wildlife. There are several global and regional instruments for wildlife conservation. Some of these are Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), etc.

In this article, the conservation projects which have been implemented in India are discussed.

Conservation projects

Conservation has not been defined in Indian statutes per se, but in a general sense means ‘preservation, protection, or restoration of the natural environment and of wildlife’.

In this era of the climate crisis, the destruction of nature, environment, and wildlife is highly evident. There is an irreversible depletion of natural resources due to industrialization and globalisation.

Conservation projects are an effort to maintain and use natural resources in a sustainable manner. This is to ensure that future generations have access to these resources. Wildlife is a part of nature and therefore there is a need to protect them.

Conservation projects are established to integrate evolutionary theory with environmental reality. This helps in predicting how wildlife will react to current and future environmental changes. It is established for their survival since global warming, farming, population growth, pollution and hunting pose a great danger to them. 

Need for conservation projects

In historical times, wildlife was traditionally hunted which led to a decrease in the population of various species. 

In the case of State of Bihar vs. Murad Ali Khan (1989), it was held that hunting is an offence under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The term hunting has been comprehensively defined under Section 2(16) of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. In this case, the accused were alleged for shooting and killing an elephant in the Kundurugutu Range Forest. They also removed the ivory tusks of the elephant. Subsequently, the Forest Range Officer lodged a complaint under Section 51 of the Wildlife Act.

The aforementioned instance shows that people still continued with harmful practices in spite of a legislation. Therefore, the need for conservation projects arose and as a result, India established several projects.

We need conservation projects:

  1. To conserve wildlife;
  2. To conserve habitats;
  3. To work for the welfare of individual wild animals;
  4. To protect biodiversity;
  5. To sustain agricultural activities;
  6. To assist eco-tourism;
  7. To protect ecological stability; 
  8. To benefit from the medicinal value of plants;
  9. To promote pollination;
  10. To preserve heritage and culture; and
  11. To protect livelihood and knowledge of indigenous tribes.

It is extremely crucial that these creatures are protected from poaching and hunting. This is because every species has a pivotal role to play in the health and the diversity of the environment. If stringent measures are not taken, then wildlife will dwindle at an alarming rate. This will eventually lead to their extinction. The ecosystem is entirely about the symbiotic relationships between different species. There is a need for conservation because the extinction of a single species can pose disastrous consequences on the entire food-chain and food-web.

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Top 5 conservation Projects

Project Snow Leopard

The species of Snow Leopard inhabits the Himalayan landscape as well as states such as Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, and Himachal Pradesh. Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and IUCN declare the species as a ‘vulnerable’ category. Additionally, the species is listed in CITES and CMS which reveals that the highest conservation status has been accorded to them, both nationally and internationally.

The International Snow Leopard Day is celebrated on 23rd October each year. The Government of India launched the ‘First National Protocol on Snow Leopard Population Assessment’ in 2019. This involves the use of technology such as camera traps and scientific surveys. This initiative was developed under the global protocol of Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program. This program is an intergovernmental alliance of 12 snow leopard range countries, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Russia, China, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia. The Population Assessment of World’s Snow Leopard (PAWS) is a collaborative effort of these countries.

The primary threats to snow leopards were loss of habitat, poaching, and man-animal conflict. In Sansar Chand vs State of Rajasthan (2010), the organized nature of wildlife crime has been highlighted. In this case, it was mentioned that an FIR was filed against his younger brother who was also involved in illicit trade of wild animals. One snow leopard skin was seized from the younger brother, Narayan Chand. He was also named as an accused under Section 55 of the Wildlife Act, 1972 in this case. There are several other cases pending against him.

Project Snow Leopard launched in 2009, aims to promote inclusivity and participatory approach for the conservation of the species.

To add to this project, SECURE Himalaya (Securing livelihoods, conservation, sustainable use and restoration of high range Himalayan ecosystems) is another initiative taken to conserve high altitude biodiversity. This is operational in Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Jammu & Kashmir. The key component of the project is the protection of snow leopards and other endangered species. The six-year-long project also focuses on securing livelihoods of the local public and enhancing enforcement to reduce wildlife crime. The government has allocated 130 crores for the project, to protect around 200 snow leopards in the Trans and Greater Himalayan Region. 

In addition, SOS or Save Our Snow Leopards is an initiative launched by WWF India in collaboration with Tata Housing Development Company in 2014. The project aims at assessing the status and distribution of snow leopards through setting up camera traps. It also aims to promote conservation strategies. 

The Protected Areas include:

  1. The Sacred Himalayan Landscape
  2. Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary
  3. Great Himalayan National Park
  4. Hemis National Park
  5. Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary
  6. Pin Valley National Park

The Ladakh region is setting a prime example for the other states through its conservatory practices to protect the Snow Leopards. Efficient collaboration among the NGOs, local public and Wildlife Department has helped in the prevention of man-animal conflict.

WWF-India installed around 13 Predator Proof Corral Pens which positively impacted the families living in 13 villages of Ladakh. Corrals are enclosures for capturing or confining livestock. It was established through a study that if people were compensated for the loss of their livestock, they would not resort to ‘revenge-killing.’ This has led to less killing of the snow leopards. 

The Jammu and Kashmir forest officials, in 2018, began working on estimation of the population of snow leopards in Ladakh. This estimation is based on the protocols of All India Tiger Estimation. This initiative requires a combined effort of the State Forest Department, Ministry of Environment and Forest at the Centre and Wildlife Institute of India.

Project Tiger

The population of Indian Tigers was drastically declining towards the end of the 20th century. Resultantly, a nation-wide Tiger Census was conducted in 1972 to estimate the population of tigers.

Large scale development activities including dams, mines, railway projects and establishment of industries led to deforestation and further loss of habitat. Since the body parts of the tigers are used for traditional Chinese medicine, they were killed in high numbers. All these factors collectively led to a decline in the population of tigers.

In the case of Sansar Chand vs. State of Rajasthan (2010), the appellant was arrested in 1974 for poaching tigers and smuggling their body parts to various countries, particularly China. He was allegedly involved in 57 wildlife cases between 1974 and 2005. He was convicted in all the offences registered against him. The Supreme Court also requested the Central and the State Government to take stringent actions against such offenders. 

The acts of poaching, killing, maiming, etc. of any animal are offences under Section 428 and Section 429 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The punishment under S.428 is imprisonment for two years and under S.429, imprisonment for five years.

In 1973, Project Tiger was launched in the Palamau Tiger Reserve, Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand. This is a centrally sponsored scheme of the Ministry of Environment and Forests. It is primarily governed under the Wildlife Act, 1972 itself.The project is administered by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, which was established in December 2005. 

The aim of the project is the protection of tigers from extinction, by ensuring that there is a viable population of the species in their natural habitats. The Project began from nine reserves in 1973-74 and has substantially grown to fifty reserves. The Project has seen significant success in the recovery of the habitat and the population of the tigers in the reserved areas. 

In 2019, the Tiger Census has shown that there are 2967 Bengal Tigers in India.

Measures Taken For Conservation of Tigers under the Wildlife Act, 1972

Legal Measures

  1. The Project has been converted into a statutory authority by providing enabling provisions in the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. A National Tiger Conservation Authority has been constituted under Section 38L of the Act. The Tiger and Other Endangered Species Crime Control Bureau has also been established under Section 38Z of the Act.
  2. The punishment for offences related to tiger reserves and its core areas has been enhanced.
  3. Several treaties have been signed with neighbouring countries such as Nepal, China, and Bangladesh for controlling trans-boundary illegal wildlife trade and for tiger conservation.

Administrative Measures

  1. Anti-poaching activities have been strengthened, especially monsoon patrolling. This involves deploying anti-poaching squads.
  2. A National Tiger Conservation Authority has been constituted.
  3. A Special Tiger Protection Force has been established.
  4. Tiger Conservation Foundation has been created. 

Financial Measures

Pecuniary measures include the provision of financial and technical help via Centrally Sponsored Schemes through the Project itself and Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats.

Tiger Task Force

It is essential that for proper implementation of the Project, a statutory authority having sufficient legal backing is established. The National Board for Wildlife recommended the set-up of a Task Force to look into the issues arising in the implementation of tiger conservation initiatives across the country. This led to the creation of the Tiger Task Force. The TTF recommended the establishment of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).

Core and Buffer Zones

The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 under Section 38V lays down the tiger conservation plan. Under sub-section (4), it is laid down that the State Government shall ensure the overall development of the people living in tiger bearing forests or a tiger reserve. For this purpose, under Section 38V(4)(i), the core or critical tiger habitat areas are established in national parks and sanctuaries. Under Section 38V(4)(ii), the buffer or peripheral area is identified and established.

  • Core Zones

(i) The areas included in the core zones are notified by the State Government after its consultation with an Expert Committee which is constituted for the purpose. 

(ii) It is a requirement that these areas are solely used for tiger conservation but should not infringe upon the rights of the Scheduled Tribes or other forest dwellers. 

(iii) Further, this area must be kept free from biotic disturbances and forestry operations. The collection of minor forest produce, grazing and other human disturbances are not allowed within this zone.

  • Buffer Zones

(i) The buffer zone is the area that stands peripheral to the core tiger habitat. It acts as a supplementary habitat and also offers scope for the co-existence of human activities.

(ii) The area is determined by the concerned Gram Sabha after its consultation with an Expert Committee which is constituted for the purpose. 

Project Elephant

Project Elephant was launched in 1992 and is a centrally sponsored scheme. Elephants face the threat of attrition, as opposed to extinction faced by Tigers. The project aims at assisting the management and protection of elephants in the States which have free-ranging populations of wild elephants. 

The Elephants’ Preservation Act, 1879 has also been formulated for the protection of elephants across the country. India has over 27,000 elephants spread over 26 elephant reserves but only 65% of the elephant corridors are in protected areas. 

The protection of elephants is also important because it has been declared as a national heritage of the country. This was done by the Government of India in 2010 after the Standing Committee on the National Board of Wildlife gave its recommendations. This step was taken to create awareness about the dwindling population of the elephants so that people would actively participate in its conservation.

The objectives of the project are:

  1. Protection of Elephants, Elephant Corridors and their Habitats;
  2. Prevention of Man-Animal Conflicts; and
  3. Ensuring the welfare of domesticated elephants.

This project is crucial because it protects the elephants from hunters and poachers and thereby curb illegal trading of ivory. 

In Balram Kumawat vs. Union of India & Ors. (2003), the appellants had imported mammoth fossils, which is said to be an extinct species. They indulged in trading mammoth ivory, citing that it was not banned under the Wildlife Act or CITES.

The Court cited the case of State of West Bengal vs. Union of India (1962) wherein it was said that the legislative intent should be derived by taking the entire statute into consideration, not just some provisions. The Court held that the ban on ivory trading extended to ivory of every description, so that elephant poaching could be curbed.

In M/s Ivory Traders and Ors. vs Union of India and Ors. (1997), the petitioners were ivory traders. They imported mammoth ivory from Russia and Hong Kong. They pleaded that they were affected by the Wildlife Amendment Act, 1991. 

The Court held that the use of ivory for commercial purposes is explicitly banned. The Court interpreted that the words ‘ivory imported into India’ as defined under Section 49B(1)(a)(i) includes all descriptions of ivory, whether elephant or mammoth. It dismissed the writ petition.

In Indian Handicrafts Emporium and Ors. vs. Union of India & Ors. (2003), the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the clause ‘ivory imported into India’ as defined under Section 49B(1)(a)(i). It said that the restrictions imposed were reasonable as the legislative intent was to plug the loopholes in the Act. 

In this case, the appellants imported ivory from African countries and manufactured several articles out of them. They filed a writ petition questioning the constitutional validity of the 1991 Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act as the Act prohibited trade of imported ivory, which affected their rights under Article 19(1)(g) of the Indian Constitution.

The famous case of Veerappan also highlights the extent of wildlife crime. He killed 138 people and 1000 elephants for the purposes of poaching and smuggling. He was later killed in October 2004 in Operation Cocoon.

Ecological restoration of the natural habitats and migratory routes is another important feature of this project. An elephant task force was also established by the Ministry of Environment and Forests to spread the idea of friendship between elephants and people (Take Gajah to the Prajah).

Elephant Corridors

Elephant Corridors are narrow strips of forested lands which act as a bridge to larger elephant habitats. This conduit is essential for the movement of the elephants and to enhance the survival rate of the species in the wild. The National Green Tribunal in the case of Rohit Chaudhary vs. Union of India & Ors. (2016)  has ruled that elephants have the first right on the forests. It ordered the demolition of a boundary wall in the middle of an elephant corridor in Assam’s Deopahar Reserve Forest. The elephants also have a right to passage.

In this case, some elephants died after the wall was built. It was determined that there was a destruction of the environment through the establishment of the wall. Hence, Numaligarh Refinery Limited was held liable to pay the environmental compensation based on the ‘polluters pay principle’ and the ‘precautionary principle’. 

It was held in the case of Vellore Citizens Forum vs. Union of India (1996), that these aforementioned principles are essential features of sustainable development. Further, it was ruled that no power fencing could be erected on the elephant corridors. This judgment was upheld by the Supreme Court.

There are approximately 88 elephant corridors in India and are distributed in the following manner. 

Location Number of Corridors
South India 20
North-Western India 12
North West Bengal 14
Central India 20
North-Eastern India 22

The corridors are categorized into high ecological priority and medium priority. The categorization is on the basis of the regularity of elephant movement, the size of the population, the area of habitats connected and the presence of other routes nearby. The corridors are also graded on the basis of conservation feasibility. Further, only about 77.3% of these corridors are regularly being used by the species. 

The major threat to these corridors is the loss of habitat due to fragmentation of forests and other protected areas. The fragmentation is due to an increase in human activities and industrialization, which includes mining activities. 

The Supreme Court ordered restraining all kinds of mining and related activities along the Kaziranga National Park area, in the case of In Re: T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad vs. Union of India & Ors. (2019) 

It is crucial that there should be a fusion of elephant corridors with nearby protected areas and reserved forests. In other areas, ecologically sensitive areas or conservation reserves can be declared. This is because the elephants have a habit of constantly foraging for food and water, and they are threatened due to habitat loss, degradation or shrinkage. These paths allow them to move freely and uninterrupted. It is important that awareness is spread and sensitization takes place.

The Supreme Court in the case of A. Rangarajan vs. Union of India (2018), passed an order in 2018 to shut down 27 resorts and hotels that were built illegally on the Nilgiris Elephant Corridors without prior approval. This endangered the safe passage, which is the basic purpose of an elephant corridor.

Measures for Protection of Elephants

Apart from the project, there are other programs which have been implemented for the protection of elephants.

This program began in 2003 in South Asia. MIKE was established under CITES  by resolution 10.10. There are approximately 45 countries across the world which are included in the program. The aim is to provide information which the elephant range countries require for making proper arrangements and enforcement decisions. It is also for the promotion of institutional capacity in these States for long term conservation and management of the elephants.

The objectives of the program are to measure the rate of illegal poaching of elephants, to determine factors responsible for changes in the elephant population, and collection of data on a monthly basis from all MIKE sites.

This campaign was launched by the Ministry of Environment and Forest in collaboration with Wildlife Trust of India. The aim is to improve the protection, conservation and welfare of elephants in India. The campaign was launched at the Elephant-8 ministerial meeting held in Delhi, in 2011.

The objective of the campaign is to spread public awareness and for developing friendship and companionship between the local public and elephants. The campaign also envisions setting up of Gajah Centres in elephant landscapes across the country, to spread awareness about their plights and invoke public participation. The mascot of the campaign is Gaju.

Project Hangul 

In the 1970s, the Jammu and Kashmir Government in association with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) designed a project for the protection and conservation of the Kashmir Red Stag and its habitat. This project came to be known as Project Hangul.

Hangul or Kashmir Red Stag is a subspecies of the Central Asian Red Deer, which is native to northern India. It is mostly found in the dense riverine forests of Kashmir Valley, some parts of Himachal Pradesh, Sindh Valley, Dachigam National Park and in the forests of Kishtwar. It is also the state animal of Jammu and Kashmir. The project was started since Hanguls were enlisted in the critically endangered species list prepared by IUCN. The species is scattered through an area of 141 square kilometres in the Dachigam National Park.

The population of these deers was once approximately 5,000 in number. Problems such as overgrazing of domestic livestock in the habitat of Hanguls and criminal activities like poaching, illicit trading lead to the decline in the population of Hangul. Then, their population dwindled to as low as 150 by the end of 1970. The aim of the project was to create enclosures for artificial breeding of the species.

After the implementation of the project, the numbers rose to 340 by 1980. But over a course of time, the project however failed due to several factors. As per the census of 2008, their population was approximately 160. 

Fallacies in Project Hangul

The project faced a major setback because the State Government allowed sheep breeding and research farms to be set up in the park. This covered almost 100 hectares of the park area.

Over a period of time, this proved to be a major disturbance. It is believed that several infectious zoonotic diseases could have been transmitted through the sheep to the stags. Due to habitat fragmentation and biotic interference, it posed a threat to their population. It took the government 12 years to arrive at the decision of relocation of sheep from Dachigam National Park. This has led to a tussle between the wildlife department and the sheep husbandry department. Although the state government passed an order in 2005 to relocate the sheep, it continued to exist because the successive regimes failed to find a place for relocation.

Further, there was no local participation of the people in the project. The Gujjars, Bakerwals, Nambardars, Chowkidars and Patwaris were not actively involved in it. 

The Government also allowed the establishment of cement factories around the Park. Lastly, the onset of militant activities in the area was the final straw in the failure of the conservation project.

In 2009, the project was reintroduced as ‘Save Kashmir’s Red Deer Hangul’. Plans were made to breed them in captivity so as to increase their chances of survival. Funds were released for their captive breeding. Conservation breeding centres were opened in Pulwama, Sikargah Tral and Kangan. As per the latest census of 2017, there is an increase in the population of Hanguls. There are now 182 Hanguls in the Dachigam National Park.

Crocodile Conservation Project

The species of crocodilians was threatened in India due to the increasing number of indiscriminate killings. They were poached for commercial purposes, which led to a drastic decline in their population. Apart from this, there was a loss of habitat due to the increasing development projects and industrialization.

In light of this situation, Project Crocodile was introduced in 1975. The primary focus was on breeding and rearing in captivity. The initiative was taken by the Government of India in association with the Food and Agriculture Organization and United Nations Development Fund.  Due to the implementation of this project, there is an increase in the population of crocodiles, which has saved them from extinction. The protected areas include National Chambal Sanctuary and Katerniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary.

There are mainly three species of crocodilians:

  1. Gharial or Gavialis Gangeticus
  2. Mugger or Crocodylus Palustris
  3. Saltwater Crocodile or Crocodylus Porosus

The strategy adopted for rehabilitation of these species was to offer them protection in their own habitats. The practice of captive rearing was followed and subsequently, they were released. The methods of ‘grow and release’ and ‘rear and release’ were used. 

The objective of this project is to protect the remaining population of the species, to promote research which would help in improving management, to promote the rebuilding of their habitat and to encourage local public participation. 

The project has saved the species from the verge of extinction, as they were enlisted as critically endangered in the IUCN Red List. It has also been helpful in the creation of wetland sanctuaries which has led to active management of other species as well. These species include turtles, Gangetic dolphins, lizards and others.

Conclusion

It can be concluded that the conservation of wildlife is important to maintain stability in the ecosystem. The expansion of human activities into the habitats of these species has led to considerable damage in the environment. The implementation of wildlife laws has to be more strict.

An attempt has been made through these projects for mitigating the harm caused and to prevent future disruptions. The human being as the most intelligent species on the earth has to take care that our actions and omissions do not harm the wildlife.

The extinction of wildlife can pose extreme dangers to the entire planet. When one crucial part of the ecosystem is eliminated, the entire planet suffers.

References

  1. http://nja.nic.in/Concluded_Programmes/2018-19/P-1102_PPTs/3.The%20Wildlife%20(Protection)%20Act,%201972.pdf
  2. http://www.asiannature.org/sites/default/files/2005%20Menon%20Sukumar%20Right-of-Passage.pdf 
  3. https://www.symlaw.edu.in/files/Empirical-Study-on-Implementation-of-Wildlife-Protection-Laws-FinalReport_Oct16.pdf 
  4. https://www.wti.org.in/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/pub_right_of_passage-1.pdf 
  5. https://www.forests.tn.gov.in/tnforest/app/webroot/img/document/news/news/ Expert_Committee_Report.pdf

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