Parliamentary panel suggests changes to Wildlife Protection (amendment) Bill
The parliamentary panel headed by senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh submitted a 254-page report on Thursday after reviewing the Wildlife Protection (Amendment) Bill 2021.
Non-official members should also be part of the state wildlife board committee proposed to assess infrastructure projects in and around protected areas, a parliamentary panel reviewing the Wildlife Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2021, said on Thursday.
The standing committee of the state board for wildlife, if formed, should be represented by several non-official members — at least three wildlife institutions and the director of the Wildlife Institute of India or his/her nominee, the parliamentary standing committee on science, technology, environment, forests and climate change cautioned in its report.
The parliamentary panel headed by senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh submitted a 254-page report on Thursday after reviewing the Wildlife Protection (Amendment) Bill 2021. It highlighted several concerns regarding the legislation and urged the Union environment ministry to consider the recommendations of scientists and conservationists mentioned in the report.
The wildlife bill was introduced in Lok Sabha by environment minister Bhupender Yadav in December last year. However, soon after its introduction, several wildlife and legal experts criticised some of the clauses in the bill, citing several loopholes that could be exploited and saying they were counterintuitive to the objectives of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
One such clause that drew flak from independent experts was the proposal to set up a standing committee of the state board for wildlife (SBWL), to be headed by its vice-chairperson, a post to be held by the state’s forest minister, and should not have more than 10 members nominated by the panel chief.
The experts claimed that such a board would be “packed with official members” and end up being a “rubber stamp for faster clearance of projects”.
If a standing committee of SBWL is formed, then it must have as its members at least one-third non-official members, at least three institutional members (like the National Tiger Conservation Authority), and the director of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) or their nominee, the House panel report, seen by HT, has recommended.
This should also be the quorum for the standing committee of the national board for wildlife, which gives a final nod to projects, the report added.
Environmental lawyers had pointed out another concern regarding the bill that makes a provision for trade in live elephants. The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, specifically prohibits trade in wild animals including captive and wild elephants. Under sections 40 and 43 of the law, transfer, acquiring and receiving of a live captive elephant is permissible only with the prior approval of the chief wildlife warden. However, such transfer, acquisition and receiving of an elephant should not involve any commercial transaction.
However, the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), a non-profit organisation, has pointed out that the amendment bill introduces a new Subsection (4) to Section 43 that takes away the protection from trade in them. The House panel report has recommended the deletion of the clause and provide an explanation of provisions for transport of captive elephants.
The most important reason given by the environment ministry for introducing the bill was the urgent need to provide legislative backing to commitments made by India over the past many years to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals that came into force in 1975.
The bill’s objectives include ensuring that international trade in wildlife is legal, sustainable and traceable by implementing CITES. But, citing several recent cases of abuse of exotic animals in India, independent experts suggested that species under CITES also need protection from abuse. On April 12, the Assam forest department seized five caged siamangs (black-furred gibbons) from a vehicle in Karbi Anglong district. Three kangaroos were found wandering around in a forested patch near Jalpaiguri in West Bengal the carcass of a fourth was found a day later on April 3. Assam police had also seized a kangaroo from a truck on March 12.
“In order to ensure that the objective of providing legislative backing to CITES, without disturbing the prohibitive structure of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 is achieved, we recommended that Chapter VB in the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill 2021 be deleted completely and instead, a separate law pertaining to CITES be enacted, and certain specific amendments (be made) in the principal Act as well,” said a suggestion made by MK Ranjitsinh and Praveen Bhargav, former members of the National Board for Wildlife.
“Inclusion of CITES species in the definition of wild animal (should also be made) — to ensure that law enforcement agencies will get jurisdiction to prosecute offences against CITES species,” the suggestion, which has been incorporated in the House panel report, added.
An advertisement calling for written representations by individuals and experts on the bill was published in major national Hindi and English newspapers on January 27. The parliamentary committee received around 60 representations. Ramesh also held several consultations with officials of the environment ministry on contentious clauses in the bill.
The environment ministry officials, however, did not find the House panel’s recommendations useful. “The amendments suggested by the committee will, in no significant way, improve India’s implementation of CITES. On the other hand, they will result in application of very strict domestic regulations to CITES listed species which are not required by the Convention,” they said in a note enclosed in the report.