- A latest report from a parliamentary standing committee which analyzed proposed amendments to the Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972 by the union government said human-wildlife conflict is a complex issue and requires support legislative.
- The committee suggested the formation of a conflict management committee to devise a mechanism to deal with cases of conflict and suggested the inclusion of unofficial members on the standing committee of state wildlife councils.
- The parliamentary committee agreed to increase fines for breaching the wildlife law, but called for tougher enforcement.
Human-animal conflict (HAC) is a complex issue that requires legislative support for effective management, a parliamentary panel has noted. Stating that this is as serious a problem as hunting, the expert panel recommended that state governments establish human-wildlife conflict management advisory committees for planning, monitoring and mitigation. such cases.
The recommendation was made by the Indian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change, led by Jairam Ramesh of the Indian National Congress, who is also India’s former minister of environment.
The Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2021 was introduced in Parliament in December 2021 by the Union Department of Environment, Forestry and Climate Change (MoEFCC), after which it was referred to the Standing Committee. In its April 21, 2022 report, the commission noted that the bill “contains no specific provision to address concerns raised by commission members on the issue of human-animal conflict which in many respects on the success of the conservation and protection programs for which India has pioneered and established itself as a world leader.
The panel asked the union environment department to consider inserting a section for forming a human-wildlife conflict management advisory committee with the state’s chief wildlife officer. as President and an officer of the State Police Department (not below the rank of an Inspector General for Law and Order) as Vice President. He suggested the inclusion of two eminent wildlife ecologists with specific expertise in human-wildlife conflict solutions, a wildlife veterinarian with specific expertise in chemical immobilization and translocation of conflict-prone species, a representative of a non-governmental organization with experience in wildlife conflict mitigation and a sociologist with experience in human-wildlife conflict mitigation as members.
The panel said the advisory committee will assess the extent of the human-wildlife conflict and finalize an adaptive action plan covering all aspects, including equipment, trained personnel, advice on the amount of compensation for people affected, site-specific plans, including the creation of viable wildlife. corridors to ensure long-term conflict resolution, standard operating procedures, including the prescription of science-based capture, translocation and population management techniques based on best practices.
In India, every year, hundreds of people and animals die due to human-animal conflict. According to the MoEFCC, 125 humans died in the conflict with tigers between 2018-2020 and 1,503 humans died in the human-elephant conflict between 2018-19 and 2020-21.
Under the current system, compensation of Rs. 500,000 is awarded in the event of death or permanent incapacitation of a person in a human-wildlife conflict, Rs. 200,000 for serious injury, and Rs. 25,000 for treatment of minor injuries.
Indian Legislature and CITES Commitments
The Wildlife Protection Act 1972 (WPA) provides the legal framework for the protection of various species of wild animals and plants, the management of their habitats and the regulation and control of the trade in wild animals, plants and their parts and derivatives. In the past it has been amended several times with the last amendment in 2006. Last year the union government introduced new amendments – around 50 – many of which have been harshly criticised.
According to the MoEFCC, the six main objectives of the 2021 Bill are to ensure that international trade in wildlife is legal, sustainable and traceable by implementing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. extinction (CITES), protection of native Indian gene pools, improved management of protected areas, improved care for seized and surrendered wild animals, guarantee of deterrence by increasing fines and streamlining of existing law schedules.
The Ministry of Environment argues that the most important reason for the bill is “the urgent need to provide legislative support for the commitments made by India over the past few years to CITES”. The parliamentary committee headed by Ramesh agreed that such national legislation had become essential in demonstrating India’s long-standing commitment to implementing CITES provisions in letter and spirit, but noted that the most appropriate way to do this would have been through amendments to the Biological Diversity Act 2002 and not the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 since the mandate of CITES is the sustainable use of the biodiversity.
“But this has not been the course taken by the MoEFCC…Even assuming that amendments to the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 are necessary, the Committee is of the view that the approach taken by the MoEFCC to ensure the legislative inviolability of India’s commitments to CITES in the bill, is not very practical The approach proposed in the bill will make the main law too cumbersome and complicated and could introduce contradictions since the construction basis of the 1972 Act has always been prohibitive while the underlying theme of CITES is enabling or enabling,” the parliamentary panel said in its report, while adding that there are other options available to confer sanctity of India’s commitments under CITES.
On the new bill proposing to replace the existing six schedules of the WPA 1972 with three schedules – schedule I for species which will benefit from the highest level of protection, schedule II for species which will be subject to a lesser degree of protection and Appendix III which covers plants – the committee said it agreed but noted that “it finds a number of species missing from all three appendices”. He urged the MoEFCC to make the annexes more comprehensive.
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The parliamentary committee pointed out that one specific amendment that has caused considerable angst in the wildlife conservation community relates to the creation of a standing committee of the State Council for Wildlife (SBWL).
He said the reason given by the MoEFCC behind this is to make the functioning of the SBWL more objective, but “the legitimate concern is that such a standing committee with no more than 12 members will be filled with official members, exercise all the powers of the SBWL and make decisions independently of the SBWL itself and end up being a rubber stamp for faster project approvals.
At present, the SBWL is chaired by the Chief Minister of the State and the Parliamentary Panel Report noted that all State Governments which appeared before them were of the view that the Chief Minister should continue to do it.
The parliamentary committee said that if a standing committee of the SBWL were to be formed, it “must have” among its members “at least one-third of the unofficial members of the SBW, at least three institutional members (such as the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education and National Tiger Conservation Authority) and the Director of the Wildlife Institute of India or his representative.
“The same membership should also apply to the National Board for Wild Life (NBWL),” the panel added.
The committee noted that it had received approximately 60 representations from various individuals and institutions on the bill. “A number of these representations are very substantial and detailed,” the committee said and urged the MoEFCC to study them carefully “as they contain many valuable suggestions” for making the 1972 WPA more effective.
Debadityo Sinha, a conservationist and senior research fellow at the Vidhi Center for Legal Policy, appreciated the parliamentary panel for addressing the many concerns that conservationists and wildlife experts had raised after the government unveiled the amendments to the law.
“It is heartening to see this report from the parliamentary panel. They took into account many of the concerns raised against the amendment – whether they were issues related to the trade and breeding of native Indian species or the protection of the genetic heritage of species native to India. Another crucial recommendation is to require that at least one-third of the standing committee members of state and national wildlife councils be unofficial members,” said Sinha, who submitted written submissions on behalf of the Vidhi. Center for Legal Policy to the committee, says Mongabay-India.
Invasive species and animal transport
He also expressed his broad agreement with the amendments proposed for the protection of Indian genetic heritage. “However, he is also keen to point out that the species could be alien and invasive with respect to a particular ecosystem in the country. Invasive alien species may not be limited to those from outside India. There must be a well-thought-out scientific and transparent process for proposing, evaluating, listing (and also deleting) invasive alien species, as well as enabling provisions guiding the formulation of specific management measures,” the committee noted.
On this, Sinha said, “The bill, although it introduced regulations for invasive alien species, exempted native species known to be invasive. The committee noted the concern.
Another contentious clause in the bill that many expert organizations and conservationists raised in their representation to the parliamentary committee concerned the transfer or transport of live animals. The panel of experts in its report said that while they broadly agreed with the proposed amendments to improve the care of seized and surrendered wild animals, the specific amendment relating to live elephants raised serious concerns in the wildlife conservation community, including among some state governments.
The committee “strongly” recommended the deletion of section 27 of the bill which implies that the ban on the transfer of animals by any means will not apply to live elephants.
Banner image: Every year, hundreds of people and animals die in India due to human-wildlife conflict. Photo by Goldentakin/Flickr.