The punishment for killing endangered species or trading in their body parts will soon get a lot stiffer.
The environment ministry has finalised amendments to the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, under which the maximum punishment for a repeat offender, in case of most endangered species, can be upto 10 years in jail or a fine of Rs 1 crore or more.
Currently the maximum punishment for killing an endangered species is three to seven years in jail and a fine of Rs 10,000 for a first offence, and Rs 25,000 for a second offence.
The fine is hardly a deterrent since a tiger carcass, for instance, fetches around Rs 15,000 to Rs 30,000, while its body parts sell for Rs 3-5 crore.
“Timely and needed,” said Samir Sinha, head of Traffic India, an international NGO that monitors wildlife crime.
Once the amendments are passed by Parliament, killing an animal in the ‘most endangered’ list — or category one — will be five to seven years for a first time offender. For repeat offenders, the jail term will be seven to 10 years and the fine of Rs 75 lakh or more.
For killing animals in ‘category two’ the punishment will be three to five years in jail and a fine of up to Rs 3 lakh.
Included in category one are tigers, lions, elephants, rhinos, crocodiles and antelopes.
Sinha said the amendments would send a strong message. But some experts wondered how well the amendments would be enforced. “Most courts in India are unwilling to impose heavy fines and jail terms for wildlife crimes,” said an expert on condition of anonymity.
Environment and Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh, expects the amendment bill to be introduced in second half of the budget session in April. “What we have proposed, is the strongest possible punishment for wildlife crime,” Ramesh said. “The law ministry has to vet it”.
The species covered in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, an international agreement listing species banned for trading signed by India, have also been included in the proposed changes in the wildlife law.
“The new provision would promote wildlife research but will also check any nefarious activity under the grab of research,” a ministry official said.