The government has proposed a new set of regulations on hunting of wildlife outside protected areas such as national parks and sanctuaries as well as trade of non-endangered flora and fauna, which conservationists dubbed as a “licence to kill”.
The environment ministry has drafted a new wildlife conservation policy, which includes rules on wildlife kept in captivity, to keep pace with the changing times and need along with the country’s religious and cultural practices.
“The wildlife protection act was enacted to ban hunting. A lot has changed in the past 35 years and we want to tune the law with present-day conservation challenges,” a government official said.
The ministry wanted to define rituals of certain communities that encouraged killing of wild and scheduled animals, listed under the wildlife act. Also, it sought to amend the law on keeping wild animals in captivity in accordance with traditional practices — such as those used in rural sports and religious functions in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Punjab.
Activists, including environmental lawyer Ritwik Dutta, said the new policy would encourage indiscriminate killing of wildlife, whose population has shrunk to alarming levels over the past century because of poaching and illegal trade of animal bones and skins.
But ministry officials allayed such fears, saying the overhauled rules would help states deal with man-animal conflicts because of shrinking habitat.
Several states such as Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh have sought clear guidelines on wildlife straying out of sanctuaries and turning hostile.
In December 2014, the ministry advised states to declare wild animals as vermin if they damage crops. Now it has proposed a clear policy to provide a permanent solution to the problem.
He said the new policy would define when and under what circumstances a wild animal could be killed. “The existing law provides for hunting of wild animals posing threat to humans after approval of either the state’s chief wildlife warden or an officer authorised by him. We are just bringing clarity in the existing provision for easier implementation.”
Conservationists were not convinced, though. They said states would now get a licence to kill because of political compulsions such as keeping voters happy in villages often raided by wild elephant herds or stray leopards.
The draft was not put in public domain for larger consultation as stipulated by the transparency watchdog, central information commission, but ministry officials said it would be implemented after feedback from the states.
A note on the policy says a new Schedule 1 of the wildlife act has been proposed. It would give highest protection to plant and animal species such as red sander, sandalwood, tigers and single-horn rhinos.
Similarly, schedule II would cover species whose trade would be allowed, while Schedule III listed wildlife with general conservation provisions.