April 18, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss the impact of the new amendments to India’s wildlife protection laws. We also look at the reasons for the low mango yield in Karnataka, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Amending India’s Wildlife Protection Laws
If anybody remembers their Class 5 environmental studies syllabus, the variety and vastness of India’s wildlife will be of no surprise. Now, with rare and pretty animals comes loads of Elmer Fudd-type people. But unlike Fudd’s babyface and lack of skills, hunters in the real world manage to do a lot more damage than the witless drawing from a cartoon.
India protects its wildlife with the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, but it hasn’t really been updated in a major way since its inception. Sometime last year, the government thought it necessary to add some important amendments to it for a more comprehensive piece of legislation. The problem with that was the hastiness that went into the draft.
The Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 is widely considered to be one of the strongest pieces of legislation that India has. It prohibits hunting wildlife, adds legal safeguards for various species to varying degrees, covers the trade of these animals and even lays out the framework for declaring something a protected area.
On 17 December 2021, Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Bhupender Yadav introduced the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha. While the Act has been amended several times before, i.e. in 1982, 1986, 1991, 1993, 2002, 2006 and 2013, the new amendments proposed are the most expansive yet.
Before even getting into the proposed amendments, interested parties complained that the Bill was practically hidden by the government. It was not translated into vernacular languages. The proposed clauses were not published in the public domain. And people only learned of the changes when the Ministry said that the time for public comments was over.
Instead, it was sent to the Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change. The panel went on to point out the various loopholes and inconsistencies of the draft legislation. But at the same time, it acknowledged the need for harsher sentences and updated regulations.
Overall, the Bill isn’t all that bad. As it turns out, if every closed door follows an open window, then this Bill is a well-ventilated house with an easy-access back garden. And that’s precisely what makes things complicated.
VIEW: Promising first step
The three words mentioned above aren’t just something we came up with; it’s how the Mumbai-based Wildlife Conservation Trust chooses to describe the new Bill. You see, the purpose of the amendments is to ensure the Wildlife (Protection) Act starts complying with the guidelines of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Something the treaty members have been wanting India to do for a while now.
Considering it regulates the international trade of flora and fauna, we need them on our good side. As a Ministry official explains it, for the last 25 years, the CITES has been urging India to follow its requirements. So much so that we have been blacklisted by the convention before. “If a second blacklisting were to happen — then India will no longer be able to trade in important plant specimens. This would affect the livelihood of a large section of Indian society that relies heavily on this trade,” says the official.
The Bill prohibits the trade, possession and breeding of species without permission from the CITES authorities. And, something everyone can get on board with is the increased penalties on wildlife crimes. What used to cost people ₹25,000 in fines will be around ₹1 lakh, and so on. Officials even claim that the changes made to the categorisation rules in the Bill will help forest officials on the ground as it makes the process a lot more efficient. So now, instead of 6 schedules for the categorisation of species, there will be just 4. Any animal under Schedule 1 is the most protected species as per the Act.
The amendments also seek to streamline the management and monitoring of wildlife. Right now, we have a National Board of Wildlife, and under that, several State Wildlife Boards look into those aspects of protecting wildlife. In most states, officials claim that the duties of these boards get neglected as they fall under the purview of the Chief Ministers. More often than not, the CMs have their plates full and barely any time to tend to the animals. To work around this, the Bill proposes the establishment of Standing Committees of State Boards of Wildlife.
It finally addresses and defines what an “alien invasive species” is. These are any species that are not native to the ecosystem of a region and cause serious harm to the natural balance of those areas. And it leaves space for the participation of forest dwellers in national parks and scheduled areas instead of forcing them to relocate, as was previously the case.
COUNTERVIEW: Problematic and hasty
First off, let’s get into the problematic bits. Right now, Sections 40 and 43 of the original Act lets people transfer and acquire elephants that were already captive. Even then, it is allowed only with prior permission from a state’s chief wildlife warden, and the transfer cannot happen if any money is expected to exchange hands. In fact, at one point, the Act also had the elephant down as a Schedule 1 species, i.e. the most protected animal. The new amendments fully free elephants from any of these clauses. If the Bill gets passed the way it is, the commercial sale of elephants will no longer be a crime.
According to the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), the Bill is set up in a way that will render all the State Wildlife Boards defunct. While we did go over the problems with these bodies, the number of members involved in its functioning matters. These Boards are supported by more than 20 members from NGOs, tribal welfare, the state legislature, the forest department, etc. The Standing Committees, however, only need the state forest minister and an appointed member for its function.
In June 2020, the Uttarakhand State Wildlife Board had set up a standing committee to effectively open land up for development projects. Since the members of this committee are all nominated, one of its members was the CEO of the state’s tourism development board. At one point, even the Central environment ministry sent a notice to the state government, asking them to stop their plans for expanding an airport. The project fell right in the Shivalik Elephant Reserve. The state was asked to consider different lands, but the former simply ignored the notice and pushed ahead.
Another massive red flag regarding these changes is the lack of space for vermin. When we cut the number of schedules down to 4 from 6, we lose out on a lot of room for categorisation. The amendments make it such that the Centre can simply declare an entire species as vermin and thus, call open season on them. According to the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, around 41 species of mammals, 17 reptiles, 58 insects and a whopping 864 species of birds can be hugely affected by this. It opens wildlife conservation up to populist tactics, which can hugely affect our ecosystem.
As per Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution, the right to life and equal protection before the law extends to animals of this country as well. What this amendment Bill does is weaken the core aims of conservation. It turns back the clock on loads of safeguards that have already existed. Even while talking about invasive species, experts say that the portion of the draft is simply not comprehensive enough to effectively protect the animals.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2021, will be good for wildlife conservation in India.
b) The Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2021, will hurt wildlife conservation in India.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Grim future – A new compact between the BJP and Muslims is implausible
For the Left:
In defence of Vivek Agnihotri and ‘The Kashmir Files’
🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Free power (Punjab) – The newly-formed AAP government in Punjab announced 300 units of free power to domestic consumers from July 1 onwards. The government has started advertising the new initiative in newspapers, with a formal announcement expected soon. The AAP plans to follow the Delhi policy in rolling out this initiative. Consumers who use more than 300 units per month will have to pay. It’s expected to help more than 62 lakh people.
Why it matters: Last June, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal guaranteed this scheme while campaigning in the state. It is expected to save the state ₹2,000 crores in the first quarter of the fiscal. Farmers in the state already get free power worth ₹6,000 crores per annum, while domestic consumers get a subsidy worth ₹4,000 crores. In November, former chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi cut electricity prices by ₹3 per unit.
Low mango yield (Karnataka) – For the third year in a row, the state’s mango yield has declined. Last year, it was 60-70% lower after heavy rainfall. Horticulture experts say climate change is a factor. This year, the yield is expected to decline by 50%. The peak season is expected to be mid-May or early June, later than usual. Last year’s prolonged rainfall increased moisture in the soil and delayed flowering as dry soil is the best for flowering.
Why it matters: The state has mango orchards spread across 180,000 hectares of land. K Srinivas Gowda, president of the Chikkaballapura Mango Growers’ Association, said, previously, the region had drought-like conditions with no rain. This helped since the temperature at night was low and high during the day. To promote the sale of mangoes, the State Mango Development and Marketing Corporation Limited (KSMDMCL) organised a buyer-seller meet in Bengaluru.
Avian flu cases (Bihar) – Administrators in Supaul district have banned the sale and consumption of poultry products within a 1 km radius of Chhapkahi village. Samples from dead birds in the village tested positive for the avian flu (H5N1). At least 325 birds were culled in the village to stop the spread. On March 30, people noticed the sudden deaths of ducks. Their samples were collected and sent to the National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases (NIHSAD) for testing.
Why it matters: In February, H5N1 was detected on a poultry research farm in the state killing more than 780 of the 3,859 birds on the farm. The remaining birds were slaughtered. Reports at the time suggested that the outbreak began on January 18. Maharashtra also reported cases of bird flu In February with samples in Thane and Palghar testing positive.
Existence of tigers (Goa) – Environmentalists have pointed to clear evidence of the presence of tigers in the state’s forests as they have been captured through camera traps. It came in the wake of forest minister Vishwajit Rane saying the tigers found were only in transit. Former chief wildlife warden of Goa Richard D’Souza, said these traps have repeatedly shown that tigers are thriving in Goa. He said protecting tigers and forests is vital to maintaining water security.
Why it matters: The state’s forest department has found evidence of tigers in the sanctuary areas of Sattari and Dharbandora. In 2010, a status report from the Wildlife Institute of India said the tiger occupancy within the state is 322 sq km. In 2014, five tigers were found through a tiger census, which was confirmed in 2019 through camera traps. In 2020, the Centre recommended the state declare the Western Ghats stretch of Goa as a tiger reserve.
Media boycott (Manipur) – Media outlets in the state have threatened to boycott news related to the ruling BJP government and opposition Congress over the non-clearance of advertisement bills. Members of the Editors Guild Manipur (EGM), Manipur Hill Journalists Union (MHJU), and All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union (AMWJU) met to discuss the issue. A joint statement said bills running into nearly ₹10 crores have been unpaid for years.
Why it matters: There are almost two dozen English and vernacular dailies published in the state. In December, the same groups urged the state government to clear the pending advertising bills before December 15. It came in the wake of an assurance from the Chief Minister in a conversation with the heads of the EGM and AMWJU.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
$2.47 billion – India’s foreign exchange reserves declined by $2.47 billion for the week ended April 8. It represents the fifth consecutive week of decline as the RBI continues to sell dollars to keep the rupee stable.