Wildlife conservation gets a boost with timely change
The Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 2021 Amendment was introduced and passed by the Lok Sabha and referred to a parliamentary committee. It is in the public domain for comment. This amendment is aimed at “the conservation, protection and management of wildlife” compared to the previous “protection of wild animals, birds and plants”.
Section 2-I6A defines alien and invasive animal and plant species whose induction or spread may harm animals, plants and their habitats, with a provision in Section 62A to control, verify, regulate and also destroy such exotic species. It is very innovative to control and control invasive exotic weeds such as lantana, eupatorium and parthenium in protected areas affecting the carrying capacity of habitats in terms of forage, space, tree regeneration and cause of fire . Section 6A, an addition, gave power to state wildlife councils to establish “standing committees” for the purpose of exercising such powers and duties of the councils as may be delegated to it by the council, with sub-committees on the model of the National Board of Wildlife, whose powers of the permanent committees have also been strengthened.
This section seems to be there for the purpose of accelerating deforestation for wildlife habitat development projects and to provide a framework for management policies. Section 28(b) has been amended to grant permission to make films without causing negative impact on habitat/wildlife. Movie shooting was banned in 1978 to prevent accidents and tragedies. This is not a welcome decision as the protected areas are already overcrowded with tourists. Section 33 has been amended to empower the Chief Wildlife Warden to manage sanctuaries in accordance with management plans approved by him in accordance with central government guidelines and in consultation with the gram sabhas wherever such sanctuaries fall, under the “Recognition of Forest Rights Act, 2006”. Similarly, construction activities, including government lodges, are restricted, which is a positive step.
Other changes such as the firearms permit around Protected Areas (Pas) have been restricted to up to 10km radius from 5km previously. Wild animals involved in crimes must be cared for in zoos or rescue centers until they are released back into their habitats. The certified owner of a live elephant can transport it without a permit according to the prescribed procedure.
Chapter VB: Regulation of international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora, in accordance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), see sections 49D to 49R to address animal husbandry , conservation, trade, import, export, reintroduction. export, etc of associated fauna and flora was added as a new chapter giving the central government the power to appoint a “management authority” with the paraphernalia. It also provides for the creation of a new department responsible for CITES, previously managed by the Customs Department.
Increase in fines
Penalties of Article 51: The length of prison sentences remains the same but the fines have been increased from Rs 10,000 to Rs 25,000 and from Rs 25,000 to 1 lakh. Computing power under Sec 54 has been increased from Rs 25,000 to Rs 5 lakh. Schedules of animals, birds, reptiles, amphibians fish and invertebrates; vermin and plants in Schedules I, II, Part I, II, Part II, III, IV, V of the Act were reduced to Schedule I, II, III and Schedule V of the Abandoned Vermin for be declared when deemed necessary.
Appendix IV has been added regarding CITES with Appendices I, II, III for details of fauna, flora and their origins to guide prosecution Section 5I (I) proviso (ii); accordingly, amendments have been made to the corresponding sections of the Act. Timetables have been drawn up with simple lists of flora and fauna species with local and scientific names. In Appendices I and II, a total of 172 mammals were listed, followed by birds (976), reptiles (65), amphibians (6), fish (26), insects (121), crabs (3 ), corals (388), molluscs (24), sea cucumbers (32) and sponges (10). Under Appendix III, 18 plants have been listed, while under Appendix IV, together with Appendices I, II, III, a total of 368, 497, 217 species have been listed, respectively.
This amendment also sought to address anomalies found in the lists of animals listed in the act, some with local names, some with scientific names, some with both, which are most confusing for field workers to take knowledge of the offenses and approach the courts. I noticed these shortcomings by identifying each animal with an appendix number to show its protection status for my Handbook of Indian Wild Animals. I made a list of these shortcomings and submitted two memoranda to the Prime Minister to correct the anomalies in the schedules of the Wildlife Act 1972 in 2016 and received a letter of appreciation from the Ministry of Wildlife Union environment.
Now I’m glad most of my suggestions have been accepted and the animal schedules are updated. For example, the alpine musk deer, Uttarakhand’s state animal, was missing. It has been included in Appendix I. Similarly, with respect to whales and dolphins, only a few were previously listed; now a total of 17 whales and 11 dolphins have been listed on Appendix I. Birds such as house sparrows, eagles/kites, lapwings, ibises, terns, frogs and wagtails; certain reptiles, fish, frogs, which disappeared before, are now listed.
In a nutshell, this amendment is more technical and the need of the hour is to fill the gaps in the field of protection, conservation and management of wildlife. It opens an era of protection of aquatic/marine mammals, reptiles, fish and other invertebrates since the fauna branch must act to monitor the coasts in order to safeguard marine fauna, hitherto neglected. Trade in animals and their parts will be put under strict vigilance with the invocation of the CITES Management Authority under this Act to strengthen wildlife protection measures. This amendment deserves to be welcomed in the interests of wildlife.
(The author is an IFS officer (retired) and freelance wildlife, forestry and environmental writer)