On 5th August 2013, the Ministry of Environment and Forest tabled certain stringent amendments to the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The amendments aim to have more rigorous enforcement of the existing laws of wildlife protection.
The modifications broadly relate to the conservation of animals, administration of their natural habitat and regulation of trade of animal based products. The quantum of punishment for crimes concerning wildlife has been increased to a great extent. The punishment for hunting in national parks of India or reshaping their boundaries has been increased from 3 to 7 years in jail and Rs 10,000 in fine, to 5 to 7 years in jail and fine of Rs 5 to 25 lakh. The penalty for repeat offenders has been raised to 7 years in prison and Rs 30 lakh in fine from the current duration of 3 to 7 years of imprisonment and Rs 25,000 in fine.
The amendments also seek to put severe punishment on buying, selling and transferring animals and their body parts or the products which are listed in the various schedules.
The proposed changes also aim to make the Indian laws regarding wildlife at par with the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). CITES is an agreement between several nations of the world. Its purpose is to ensure that the trade in wild animals and plants does not endanger their survival.
Active participation of the Gram Sabhas and Gram Panchayats in the management of various wildlife reserves is also sought through the amendments. The hunting and gathering tribes of Andaman and Nicobar Islands have been conferred the right to hunt as it is the only way they survive.
The research community is not happy with some of the proposed provisions, especially with the section 51A (1) of the bill. The section states that: “…the breach of any of the terms and conditions of any license or permit granted… shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and also with fine which may extend to twenty five thousand rupees.” As per the researchers, such acts will only prove to be deterrents to the research efforts.
Thankfully, there is a breather under section 12A (1) which states that: “the Chief Wildlife Warden, shall on an application, grant a permit, by an order in writing to any person, to conduct scientific research.” This act will empower a researcher to conduct his/her work without bothering about the discretionary powers of any State Chief Wildlife Warden.
The amended bill also enforces a ban on the production, selling, buying, having, transporting and using any kind of animal trap. A prior written permission from the Chief Wildlife Warden (CWLW) needs to be acquired. The permission also depends upon the purpose of use, which should strictly be educational and scientific.
But the ban on all kinds of traps is not feasible. Some wildlife conservation specialists fear that the real offenders, the poachers, for whom the prohibition has been put, are sure to device other means to go about their business. However, it will make the essential task of catching the vermin cumbersome, by making the farmers account for each and every trap their own or are about to buy.
The intention behind the modifications is to meet the crisis which most of the wildlife sanctuaries and the environment, as a whole, are facing.