While tracing the historical context of wildlife protection in India the article examines the proposed 2021 Wildlife Protection and Amendment Bill, emphasizing the implementation of Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) and protection of endangered species. The Bill addresses controlling invasive alien species, regulating trade in live elephants, and establishing conservation reserves. Concerns are raised about vague provisions, incomplete species lists, and climate change impacts. Despite some drawbacks, the Bill focuses on ecological balance and safeguarding India’s flora and fauna, necessitating careful consideration and comprehensive policy implementation.
The Wild Birds Protection Act, 1887, was the first of its kind, and it was enacted by the British Indian Government in 1887. The intention of the law was to make it illegal to own or sell certain wild birds that were either shot or caught during a nesting season. The Wild Birds and Animals Protection Act, a second piece of legislation, was passed in 1912. The Wild Birds and Animals Protection (Amendment) Act 1935, which was approved, changed this.
The preservation of animals was not a top priority during the British Raj. The concern about protecting wildlife and averting the extinction of specific species didn’t really take off until 1960. Wildlife is a component of “forests,” and up until the Parliament established this law in 1972, this was a state matter.Currently it belongs to the concurrent list.
There are some justifications for a federal law protecting wildlife and the environment: India is home to a wide variety of flora and animals. The population of many animal species was rapidly declining. For instance, Edward Pritchard Gee, a naturalist, stated that India was home to close to 40,000 tigers at the turn of the 20th century. However, a census taken in 1972 revealed that this number had fallen to just 1827. Ecological imbalance can result from a sharp decline in flora and fauna, which has a variety of effects on the ecosystem and the climate.
About the Wildlife Protection Amendment
The Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change introduced the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2021 in the Lok Sabha on December 17, 2021. The Wild Life (Protection) Act of 1972 is amended by the Bill. The Act governs how wild animals, birds, and plants are protected. The Bill aims to implement the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and expand the list of species that are legally protected.
Implementing CITES: The goal of CITES is to ensure that the international commerce in wild animal and plant specimens does not endanger the existence of the species. The Standing Committee noted that since the goal of CITES is the sustainable use of biodiversity, revising the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 would be the best approach to carry out this goal.
Additionally, it was noted that the strategy outlined in the Bill would complicate the main Act and could result in conflicts. In order to allay this worry, it was advised to (i) alter the pertinent portions of the 1972 Act rather than adding a complex Chapter as was suggested in the 2021 Bill, and (ii) remove Schedule IV from the 2021 Bill and substitute CITES Appendices for Schedule IV references throughout the entire Bill.
The specimens included in the CITES Appendices are mentioned in Schedule IV. Based on the risk of extinction, CITES divides plant and animal specimens into three Appendices.
The Bill gives the central government the authority to control the importation, trade, possession, or spread of invasive alien species in order to protect the native Indian gene pool. Invasive alien species, as defined by the Bill, are those plant or animal species that are (i) not indigenous to India and (ii) whose introduction may have a negative impact on wildlife or its environment. The Committee noted that, in relation to specific ecosystems, invasive alien species may exist within the nation.
The Committee suggested that invasive alien species be listed and delisted using a transparent and scientific method. This makes it clear that CITES-specific rules do not assist the breeding and trade of native Indian species allowing provisions for creating appropriate management measures.
Some significant issues, such as the rule governing eco-sensitive zones which sometimes conflicts with some religious sentiments like Sammed Shikarji being declared a tourist and a eco-sensitive zone and human-wildlife conflict, have not been addressed. 5.26 percent of India’s land is covered by protected areas, including 564 wildlife sanctuaries and 108 national parks. Under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, they are reported. Even the activities allowed in “reserve forests” are not permitted in national parks, while animal sanctuaries give ever-declining concessions.
The species mentioned in all three of the Bill’s schedules are incomplete, according to the report presented by the Parliamentary Standing Committee. There is a need to include more species across flora and fauna that cohabitate on the Indian Terrain. To speed up the process of identifying all currently extant animal species, there needs to be a greater inclusion of scientists, botanists, and biologists.
The Bill permits the commercial trade of live elephants with one exception that is individuals possessing a certificate of ownership are granted an exception from the law prohibiting the transfer or transportation of live elephants, but they must first obtain approval from the State Government and follow certain rules established by the Central Government. This clause may be intended to protect the rights of legitimate owners while ensuring effective control and regulation of the transportation of live elephants.
Therefore, the Bill permits the trade of elephants for profit, contrary to the previous law (Wildlife Protection Act, 1972), which expressly forbids the commerce in wild animals, including elephants in captivity and in the wild. The bill does specify that the profits earned from the trade will be used for the betterment of the elephants by stating,
the proceeds of the trade are used exclusively for elephant conservation and community conservation and development programmes within or adjacent to the elephant range
however will the profits actually help the elephants out in their natural habitat or not can only be seen over years. The ambiguous phrase in the amendment proposal “any other purpose” regarding trade of animals may encourage the commercial trade in elephants.
In order to protect various species, the Central Government may name a Management Authority that issues export or import permits to exchange specimens. The central government can regulate or prohibit the import, trade, possession, or proliferation of invasive alien species—plant or animal species that are not indigenous to India and whose introduction could hurt wildlife or its habitat. A conservation reserve, which often serves as connections and migration routes between established national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, may also be notified by the federal government.
proposes that the Chief WildLife Warden shall control, manage and maintain all sanctuaries in accordance with the management plan prepared as per guidelines issued by the Central Government and in the case of sanctuaries falling in Scheduled Areas or areas where the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 is applicable, in accordance with the management plan prepared after due consultation with the concerned Gram Sabha. It further proposes to include Government lodges for commercial purposes within the purview of the proviso to clause (a) of section 33.
It further states
In section 33 of the principal Act,— (a) after the words “manage and maintain all sanctuaries”, the words, brackets and figures “in accordance with such management plans for the sanctuary approved by him as per the guidelines issued by the Central Government and in case the sanctuary also falls under the Scheduled Areas or areas where the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 is applicable, in accordance with the management plan for such sanctuary prepared after due consultation with the Gram Sabha concerned” shall be inserted.
The management plan for sanctuaries included in Scheduled Areas (where FRA 2006 is applicable and is covered by the 5th Schedule) must be created following appropriate consultation with the Gram Sabha. Concerned States may designate areas adjacent to National parks and Sanctuaries as Conservation Reserves in order to protect the local flora and fauna as well as their habitat.
Climate Change and its Impact
According to “Climate change and seasonal reproduction in mammals” by F.H Bronson in National Library of Medicine – National Centre for Biotechnology Information, it is evident that climate change is altering animals as well as the migration and mating cycles of creatures. However, empirical proof is needed to properly grasp its effects.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington’s Center for Ecosystem Sentinels found that global warming increases human-wildlife conflict by changing resource availability, timing of events, and animal behavior as well as animal habitats, such as sea ice for polar bears.
Given the severe effects of climate change on wildlife species, the Act empowers the Chief Wildlife Warden to oversee, manage, and maintain all sanctuaries within a state. The Chief Wildlife Warden is appointed by the state. Anyone in possession of a live specimen of an animal listed as endangered in CITES Appendix 1 must get a registration certificate from the Management Authority.
Animals in captivity may be surrendered willingly by anyone under the rules of the bill without payment or loss of authority over the animal. Appendix 1 mentions endangered species, because due to human intervention and climate change various species are forced out of their natural habitat and indulge in human wildlife conflict.
Other Important Issues
The “live elephant” exemption from being used in commercial trade: The Jairam Ramesh-led Parliamentary Standing Committee opposed the broad exemption of live elephants from commercial trade and suggested restricting it to temple elephants kept for religious purposes.
Elephant poaching persists even in habitats that are suitable for them. Poaching has caused a greatly skewed male-to-female ratio in many locations because only males have tusks. Populations of elephants are also at risk from poaching, particularly in northeast India, for their flesh, skin, and other goods like tail hair. This exemption might lead to a declining elephant population in the country.
The center continues to withhold its “vermin” declaration: The Special Protection Act now includes six schedules for particularly protected flora (one), animals (four), and vermin species (one). It does away with the list of vermin species. Small animals known as vermin are known to spread illness and contaminate food. It adds a new timetable for the “scheduled specimens” (species listed in the Appendices under CITES). Kerala’s petitions for the Environment ministry to declare wild boars as vermin were repeatedly denied last year.
Tribal communities are affected: The pastoral communities of the western and central Himalayas have long posed a governance challenge to the contemporary Indian state. Their existence has long been questioned because it generally falls outside the purview of fixed property and capitalist production relations.
These peoples have been unable to fully or smoothly assimilate into the sedentarized market economy due to their seasonal migrations and vertical movements through space and time.
Mostly their livelihood depends on the stock of animals they rear. The bill significantly restricted grazing in pastoral areas within conservation areas. The amendment might interfere with that. A semi-nomadic pastoral community in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh called the Van Gujjars may be affected.
The wildlife protection in India is still infested by various problems including poaching and non cooperation of the general public like the unfortunate incident of the Kerala Elephant or the more common microaggressions with the strays. The policy needs to include the perspectives of the individuals actually interacting with wildlife and related issues tribes as mostly for them nature is not a source of capitalistic income but medium to live in synchrony with its rule . The policy gives the complete control of decision to the state. In that case the State needs to clarify its intention with regards to the protection of flora and fauna as well as the land they occupy.
India has an ever expanding population. India has overtaken China to become the world’s most populous country as of April 2023, according to the UN. With a growing population, India needs space for human settlement, with limited land resources, the expansion of semi-urban and urban places into the forests will bring in new dynamics of the human-animal relationship which will play a key role to determine the notions of protection of both animals and humans.
India has progressed in order to protect its wildlife species, the amendment in the bill is an example for that, however, the country needs to be more inclusive in its policy making so that they can minimize the effects of climate change on its wildlife counterparts. Protection of species is not enough. Protection of their habitat, especially one without human intervention, is required.
1. “Climate change pitting humans and wildlife against each other, say Indian conservationists” The Hindu, 14 April 2023, https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/climate-change-pitting-humans-and-wildlife-against-each-other-say-indian-conservationists/article66737166.ece
2. The Wildlife Protection and Amendment Bill 2021, PRS Legislative, 2022, https://prsindia.org/billtrack/the-wild-life-protection-amendment-bill-2021
3. Standing Committee Report Summary – The Wildlife Protection and Amendment Bill 2021, 2022, https://prsindia.org/files/bills_acts/bills_parliament/2021/SCR%20Summary%20WLPA%202021.pdf
4. Original Text of the Bill, The Wildlife Protection and Amendment Bill 2021, Accessed from PRS 2022https://prsindia.org/files/bills_acts/bills_parliament/2021/Wild%20Life%20(Protection)%20Bill,%202021.pdf
5. Ministry of Law and Justice Legislative Department Part 2 Section 1 The Gazette of India, Accessed from PRS 2022,https://prsindia.org/files/bills_acts/bills_parliament/2021/The%20Wild%20Life%20(Protection)%20Amendment%20Act,%202022.pdf
6. World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF), Accessed on 2023 https://www.wwfindia.org/about_wwf/priority_species/indian_elephant/conservation_issues/#:~:text=Poaching%3A,populations%2C%20especially%20in%20northeast%20India
7. The making of pastoralisms: An account of the Gaddis and Van Gujjars in the Indian Himalaya, Raghav Shrivastava, 2022, Springer Open, https://pastoralismjournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s13570-022-00259-z
8. Climate change and seasonal reproduction in mammals, F.H Bronson, 2009, National Libabry of Medicine https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2781850/
9. Analysis | Why has the creation of eco-sensitive zones provoked protests? C.R Bijoy, 2023, The Hindu, https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/analysis-why-has-the-creation-of-eco-sensitive-zones-provoked-protests/article66377452.ece
Abhivyakti Mishra is a Research Intern at IMPRI.
Acknowledgement: Author would like to thank Priyanka Negi, Aasthaba Jadega and Aishwarya Dutta for their kind comments and suggestions to improve the article
Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.