Animal lovers, lawyers and activists have raised their voice against the draft wildlife policy, which is being circulated by the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) informally, for the past two months.
The policy allows the ‘use of wild species for religious and cultural practices’ and this has not gone down well with the environmentalists.
Delhi-based environmental activist and Supreme Court advocate Ritwick Dutta said, “The draft is at present being formulated by a high-level committee chaired by former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian. It has recommended that different communities across the country can use animals for their cultural practices. This is completely against the cultural ethos, provisions of law and conservation requirements.”
To avoid confrontation between the enforcement authorities and the communities, the draft proposes changes in the Indian Wildlife Protection Act. The authorities say the proposed amendments will help distinguish between hunting and use of animals for religious or cultural practices. It will have appropriate safeguards and cruelty prevention regulations in place.
Dutta provides an example of a cultural practice, which is being followed over the years in various parts of the country during Nag Panchmi. “People continue to catch snakes during the festival and force-feed milk to them. After the celebrations, the snake is released in a new habitat. The snakes, being carnivores, cannot stomach milk. Owing to the diet and the new habitat, countless snakes die during the festival every year,” he said.
In a bid to convince the authorities, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) recently wrote to the MoEFCC, asking them to turn down this suggestion. “Every species has a specific role in the ecology. If the new clause encourages such practices, it will be detrimental to the survival of a number of species,” said Atul Sathe, manager - communications, BNHS.
The environmentalists said this step reflects the government’s insensitivity towards the protection of wildlife. “Cultural practices in a country cannot be used as an excuse to modify laws. The only way to pay tribute to the wildlife would be to let all the species exist as part of nature and protect their habitat. They need not be showcased as part of rituals,” said environmentalist Stalin D.
Conservationists present their argument
* Animal lovers say the suggestion in the draft wildlife policy contradicts the spirit of the Constitution in terms of ethics and safeguarding the natural wealth of the country
* Controlled killing of animals has historically fuelled poaching and black markets in wildlife products. This will only add to the threat to several species protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act
* Delhi-based environmental activist and Supreme Court advocate Ritwick Dutta said, under the Wildlife Protection Act, hunting of only four wild animals is legal. They include mice, rats, common crow and fruit bat
* “Hunting is not only killing an animal but trapping or holding it in captivity; all this comes under the ambit of hunting under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Only the hunting rights of the traditional tribal community of Andaman and Nicobar Islands are protected under the act,” said Dutta
Act of cruelty
Nag Panchami is an example of a cultural practice in which animals are harmed during a festival, said Dutta. “People continue to catch snakes during the festival and force-feed milk to them. After the celebrations, the snake is released in a new habitat. The snakes, being carnivores, cannot stomach milk. Owing to the diet and the new habitat, countless snakes die during the festival every year,” he said.