With a land mass of the 329 million hectares and coast line of 7516 km, with oceans, lakes, rivers and mighty Himalayas and several other mountains ranges, the desert of Rajasthan, the plateaus, the wetlands and the islands of Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep, India, our beautiful country, is the home to an amazing variety of fauna and flora. There are about 75,000 species of animals, of which 340 species are mammals, 1200 birds, 420 reptiles, 140 amphibians, 2000 fishes, 50,000 insects, 4000 molluscs and several other species of vertebrates.
Need for Conservation
The gradual emergence of the human beings as the most dominant species among all other species of animals and the attempt of the human beings to set them apart from other species is the main underlying cause of the contemporary environmental disaster. The main reason behind a threat to the wildlife and the ecosystem is the constantly growing deforestation, poaching and negligence towards animals and nature.
At the present estimate, 81 species of mammals, 38 species of birds, 18 species of amphibians and reptiles considered to be endangered in India. The tiger is the largest living member of the cat family, followed by the lion and the leopard. Habitat destruction and poaching brought about a sharp decline in their number and the national census of tigers in 1972 recorded that there were just 1827 of them in our country.
With the entire gloomy picture in regard of our wildlife, India is keen to do its best to protect its wild life. Luckily, we have ability and media, vocal environmental groups, NGOs and others who would not tolerate any more interference or intuition with the vast diversity of animal wildlife.
Wildlife laws in India can be traced back to early third century BC, when Ashoka, the Emperor, codified a law for the preservation of wildlife and environment. Thereafter came several laws among which, the first codified law was the Wild Bird Protection Act, 1887, enacted by the British Government. The Government of India brought for the first time a comprehensive act, the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972, which was later amended and changes were brought in as the need arose. Furthermore, to protect the wildlife, the Government of India also became a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) since October, 1976.
Besides WPA and CITES; the Indian Penal Code, 1860; the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C), 1973; Customs Act, 1962; Indian Forest Act, 1927; Forest Conservation Act, 1981; Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 are some of the important weapons available for check and control of wildlife offences including trade.
Wild Life Protection Act (WPA), 1972 provides for the protection of Wild animals, birds and plants and for matters connected therewith or ancillary or incidental thereto. It extends to the whole of India, except the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The act includes all animals like birds, mammals etc. While the act clearly defines hunting it also prohibits the usage, supply etc. of animal articles, Animal article means an article made from any captive animal or wild animal, other than vermin, and includes an article or object in which the whole or any part of such animal has been used and ivory imported into India.
Section 9 of the Act prohibits hunting of wild animals and birds specified in Schedule I, II, and III and IV, except as provided under Sections XI and XII. This classification has been made keeping in mind the significance and population of wildlife. Those highly threatened find a place in Schedule I.
As of punishment for offences, Section 51 of the Act prescribes a maximum imprisonment of six years, Rs 25,000 fine or both for hunting animals and birds specified on Schedule I.
Case Studies with respect to Wild Life Conservation:
The Shahtoosh wool is derived from the soft undercoat of the Tibetan Antelope (also known as Chiru), which has to be killed before its fleece is removed. Three to four Chiru have to be killed to weave only one shawl. Each shawl can cost several thousand dollars in the international market.
In 1977, the Government of India declared the Chiru as protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of India, 1972. Killing of Chiru is also in contravention to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), of which India is also a signatory as mentioned earlier.
A PIL or Public Interest Litigation was filed in the J&K High Court seeking implementation of the provisions of their Wildlife (Protection) Act as well as CITES which prohibits the import of Shahtoosh into India. On May 1, 2000, the Honorable High Court issued a judgment forcing the government to enact and enforce its wildlife law. Finally in 2002 the manufacture of Shahtoosh shawls has finally been banned in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Project Tiger, an initiative by the Government, launched on April 1, 1973, has become one of the most successful conservation ventures in modern history. The project aims at tiger conservation in specially constituted ‘tiger reserves’ which are representative of various bio-geographical regions falling within India. It strives to maintain a viable tiger population in their natural environment. Today, there are 27 Project Tiger wildlife reserves in India covering an area of 37,761 km.
A 2008 census held by Government of India revealed that the tiger population had dropped to 1,411. Since then the government has pledged US$153 million to further fund the project, set-up a Tiger Protection Force to combat poachers, and fund the relocation of up to 200,000 villagers to minimize human-tiger interaction.
Project Elephant, though less known, started in 1992 and works for elephant protection in India.
Protection of Wildlife alone is not possible only by laws and Government. Despite all of these laws and efforts, destruction of wildlife, illegal trade and poaching continues. Active cooperation from the common public is also very necessary. It is now high time for us to understand the gravity of the situation and act on its behalf. And this can only be achieved by our awareness and by further stringent laws by the Government. We must not lose the national treasures in our rat race of urbanization and modernization.
Adhideb Bhattacharya & Ankit Shrivastav
Students, 4th Year, B.A.LL.B.(Hons.) ,University of Petroleum & Energy Studies, Dehradun
[Submitted as an entry for the MightyLaws.in Blog Post Writing Competition, 2011]