Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill


    In News

    Recently, the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill 2022, was passed by Rajya Sabha. 

    Key Points

    • Present scenario: 
      • Rajya Sabha has invited scrutiny on two major issues: 
        • The exemption made to allow the transfer of captive elephants, and 
        • The sweeping powers given to the Centre to declare species as vermin. 
    • Elephant dilemma:
      • Legal angle: 
        • The legal dilemma over the elephant’s status — simultaneously an endangered wildlife species and a prized domestic animal — has persisted for long.
        • In 1897, the Elephants’ Preservation Act prohibited the killing or capture of wild elephants unless in self-defence or to protect property and crops, or under a licence issued by the district collector.
        • In 1927, the Indian Forest Act listed the elephant as ‘cattle’, prescribing the highest fine of Rs 10 for every impounded jumbo — in comparison, a cow attracted a fine of Re 1, and a camel of Rs 2.
        • The Wildlife (Protection) Act (WLPA), 1972, identified the elephant, along with the bullock, camel, donkey, horse, and mule, as a “vehicle”. 
        • Given the highest legal protection in 1977, the elephant is the only animal in WLPA’s Schedule-I that can still be owned legally — by means of inheritance or gift.
        • In 2003, Section 3 of the WLPA prohibited trade in all captive wildlife and any (non-commercial) transfer across state boundaries without permission from the concerned chief wildlife warden.
      • Latest development:
        • The WLPA (Amendment) Bill 2021 proposed an exception to Section 43: This section shall not apply to the transfer or transport of any live elephant by a person having a certificate of ownership, where such person has obtained prior permission from the State Government on fulfilment of such conditions as may be prescribed by the Central Government.
    • The changed Bill, still vague:
      • The transfer or transport of a captive elephant for a religious or any other purpose by a person having a valid certificate of ownership, subject to such terms and conditions as may be prescribed by the Central Government.
    • Criticism of the move:
      • The blanket exemption is objected to by Animal welfare Groups, and it should be limited to temple elephants kept for religious purposes.
      • The prohibition on commercial transfer only drove the live elephant trade underground as traders switched to dressing up commercial deals as gift deeds to bypass the 2003 amendment. 
      • The sweeping ambit of “any other purpose” in the present amendment will empower elephant traders, put wild populations at greater risk of capture, and defeat the very purpose of WLPA.
    • Favoring the move:
      • The 2003 amendment did not benefit captive elephants who suffer when their owners fail to bear the expenses of their upkeep, particularly in the post-Covid scenario, and allowing such owners to transfer their elephants legally to those willing to and capable of looking after the animals is a welcome step.
    • The vermin conflict: 
      • Problems to Farmers: The damage due to crop depredation by wild animals has never been computed. But for lakhs of farmers around the many protected forests, it is the biggest challenge to livelihood, not to mention the occasional threat to life.
      • Since 1972, the WLPA has identified a few species — fruit bats, common crows and rats — as vermin or nuisance animals that spread diseases or destroy crops and are not protected under the Act. 
      • Killing animals outside this list was allowed under two circumstances:
        • Under Section 62 of WLPA, given sufficient reasons, any species other than those accorded the highest legal protection (such as tiger and elephant but not wild boar or nilgai) can be declared vermin at a certain place for a certain time.
        • Under Section 11 of WLPA, the chief wildlife warden can allow the killing of an animal irrespective of its status in the Schedules, if it becomes “dangerous to human life.
    • Decision making authority:
      • The state governments took the decisions under Section 62 until 1991 when an amendment handed these powers to the Centre. 
      • In recent years, however, the Centre has started using its powers under Section 62 to issue sweeping orders declaring species as vermin at even state levels, often without any credible scientific assessment.
    • Culling of Animals:
      • Wildlife targets crops either because:
        • There is insufficient food inside forests: Stopping their access to non-forest food by electric fences, etc. may make them starve and bring down the population over time. 
          • Contraptions such as electric fencing divert animals to the next village and merely shift conflict. Used extensively, it turns forests into fenced-in zoos without enough food.
        • Fields offer more nutrient alternatives like sugarcane or maize: Measures such as creating buffer zones so that crops do not stand at the edge of the forest, or promoting non-edible crops, may discourage but not eliminate conflict. 
        • Effective compensation schemes work where the damage is reasonable. Elsewhere, the only option is to reduce the number of habitual crop raiders.
      • Secret hunting:
        • The absence of a legal option has not stopped farmers from secretly hunting ‘problem’ animals. 
        • These unregulated culling encourages a practice that often extends to poaching of non-pest, rare and endangered species.

    Way Ahead

    • A wildlife standing committee with few members and in-depth technical knowledge for evolving effective site-specific plans/ mitigation strategies including recommendations on changing cropping patterns and for taking critical decisions at short notice, empowered under the law, is necessary.
    • The controversial clause in the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2021 that allows the “transfer and transport” of live elephants while recommending that the government could bring in additional checks to allow sale and purchase by religious institutions, should be amended.
    • The well-planned, integrated approaches to managing human-wildlife conflict can reduce conflicts and lead to a form of coexistence between people and animals.

    Human-animal Conflict: 

    • It refers to the interaction between wild animals and humans which results in a negative impact on people, animals, resources, and habitats. 

    Source: IE + TH + PRINT