The Jodhpur district and session court’s decision to uphold a lower court’s order sentencing actor Salman Khan to five years of rigorous imprisonment in the chinkara poaching case is good news considering that the rate of conviction of wildlife crimes is abysmally low in India. He was booked on October 15, 1998, for killing chinkaras and convicted in 2006. Khan, who is now in barrack number 15 in Jodhpur Central Jail, will have to wait till Wednesday to know the fate of his bail plea with the Rajasthan High Court declining to hear the application on Monday. The actor was also convicted in 2006 for killing protected blackbuck and was given a one-year jail sentence. He was later granted bail and has appealed against that conviction.
It has been 35 years since the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, was passed. In 1991, an amendment made punishments more stringent. The Prime Minister, who holds the environment and forest portfolio, set up the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) in 2006. The WCCB board was given investigative powers to curb poaching of endangered animals and illegal trade in their parts. The laws are in place but other than that there is nothing much to show.
There will be no real change where it is needed unless and until the government puts wildlife protection prominently on the development agenda. If we want to protect wildlife, we need to protect its home first. But recent reports suggest that instead of strengthening the laws governing the protection of habitat, they are being diluted by the Cabinet itself. Also, citizens should understand that protection of animals and habitats have a direct relation to their lives. These habitats are pristine water sources, work as carbon sinks and climate moderators. Minus animals and their habitats, we will be without these benefits. Structural changes are also required in the way our wildlife machinery works and red-tape needs to reduced. According to a report by a wildlife tiger expert, funding from the ministry needs to clear more than 40 desks before it reaches the field officials. This inordinate delay often becomes a life and death situation for the animals the officials are meant to protect. But, before everything else we need to change our mindset and understand that human beings cannot survive without saving biodiversity. And, the choice is ours.