What explains the Centre’s haste to change wildlife and biodiversity laws?

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Late last year, the Indian government introduced two bills to parliament without public consultation. The first was a bill proposing amendments to the Biological Diversity Act 2002, which regulates the use of biological resources and their access and benefits. The second was a bill proposing amendments to the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 (WLPA), an act which is concerned with the protection of wild animals from trade, poaching or other threats.

While the Biological Diversity Act is relatively new, the Wildlife Protection Act, which is almost 50 years old, needs updating. Yet pushing bills through without public or expert consultation never bodes well, and subsequent criticism of this has led the government to admit that the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Science and Technology, the Environment and Forests would consider the WLPA Bill and that the Joint Parliamentary Committee would consider the Organic Bill. Diversity Bill.

For a law like the WLPA, scientific consultation is not an option but a necessity. The main law lists the species and the protection annexes to which they are subject (such as corals, birds, plants, reptiles, etc.). Any upgrade or modification requires extensive work by scientists, botanists, entomologists, etc. Not surprisingly, the bill for the WLPA is incorrect and inadequate when it comes to the species it names – some species are misspelled or described, and many have been left out.

But there are also other issues with the bill that are deeply problematic. First, the bill empowers the government to have arbitrary powers to declare species as “vermin” (pests). Second, the bill proposes a reduction in the role of State Wildlife Boards — bodies that are crucial in determining the fate of major projects involving forests or protected areas in states. Finally, the bill relaxes the provisions relating to the transport of elephants, which is likely to encourage the illegal trade in wild elephants.

Currently, the WLPA gives states the power to hunt animals if they are a nuisance, but a procedure to do so must be followed. The Union Environment Department had also asked states to respond on animals they wanted to declare as vermin, which would be done for a period of time. Whether it’s Nilgai in Bihar or rhesus monkeys in Himachal Pradesh, the process of pest reporting has been political rather than ecological.

Instead of addressing the drivers of the problem, the indiscriminate shooting or killing of wildlife has been allowed, which for the most part acts more as revenge than a solution. In the 2021 bill, it is suggested that Schedule II animals could be declared “vermin”. Several endangered animals are listed in Appendix II, such as jungle cats. The issue of declaring animals as vermin is not problematic – the way it has been used is. There is no reason to give general powers to declare an animal as “vermin” of a all Program. Instead, baseline population assessments should be conducted before any such moves.

On several occasions, the Union government has wished to push through major projects that do not have the support of local populations or even states. For example, the Ken-Betwa Interconnection Project in Madhya Pradesh, which will divert water from the Ken to the Betwa, has been the subject of much protest from locals. In other cases, the projects require further examination. A plan to create a railway line from Hubli to Ankola by cutting down hundreds of thousands of trees in the Western Ghats of Karnataka has faced opposition from the State Wildlife Board, as alternative railway tracks (which will also cut down forests) had already been cleared.

The 2021 bill inserts section 6, which suggests that state wildlife councils should have a standing committee. It is a clear copy of the National Wildlife Council, which is nominally headed by the Prime Minister but leaves all its work to its standing committee – a committee which has authorized projects without prior review.

Creating a similar system in the states is a political move to further distance diverse opinions from environmental decision-making. With several chief ministers taking an active interest in wildlife and declaring new wildlife sanctuaries (e.g. Madhya Pradesh will create two new tiger sanctuaries), it is also a move that in many ways undermines the fullness of the structure. federal.

Finally, the question of elephants, India’s national heritage animal. Elephants have a unique place in the WLPA. They are endangered animals that enjoy protection under the WLPA, but due to their cultural and sometimes economic importance, they are the only wild animal protected under the WLPA that can be kept in captivity. The caveat is that the owner should have obtained the animal by any means other than commercial sale and purchase. But how many times can the same animal be inherited and where do gift elephants come from?

It is well known that the law is broken and elephants are illegally purchased and kept in captivity. A proposed change in the 2021 bill removes some provisions of section 43, allowing the transfer and transport of live elephants by persons with a certificate of ownership. The reason is clear: to facilitate the keeping of elephants in captivity.

Rushing bills through is a bad idea for the environment. But insufficient provisions may be the reason for the haste in the first place.

Neha Sinha is a conservation biologist and author. She is the author of Wild and willful (2021).

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