Sunday, 8 May 2011

Letter to Jairam Ramesh about Wildlife Act amendments, Feb 26, 2010


Shri Jairam Ramesh
Minister for Environment and Forests (I/C)
Paryavaran Bhavan
CGO Complex, Lodhi Road,
New Delhi, 110 011

26 February, 2010

Hon’ble Minister,

Sub: Second Letter of Members of the National Board for Wildlife regarding the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2009.

Ref: Our letter and recommendations dated 15 December 2009.

As you are aware, a sub-committee of National Board for Wildlife members was constituted to advise the Government on the amendments to the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 (WPA). The sub-committee, in consultation with other non-official members of the NBWL, analysed the draft amendments in detail and submitted about 80 recommendations.

However, we are dismayed to find that only 25% (i.e. 20 out of about 80) of our recommendations have been included in the final draft of the Bill dated 1 January 2010, and that many of the critical issues that we had pointed out have been omitted. In fact, the members only came to know through media reports that a draft had been finalized and forwarded to the Law Ministry. This gives us the impression that the advise of the members of NBWL, a statutory body under the WPA, is being largely ignored and the consultations are of no importance.

We believe that the present draft has serious flaws and that it will weaken the WPA, making it a disjointed piece of legislation. We are also extremely concerned that a number of our key recommendations have not been taken into account, and frankly we fail to understand the reasons for this.

We are aware that not all recommendations can be incorporated in the Bill. However, having reviewed the final draft we feel that under no circumstances can there be a compromise on the following points, which we would like to re-iterate in the order in which they appear in the Act:

1. In our recommendations dated 15 December 2009, we had suggested the incorporation of a new Section 9-A which criminalises the manufacture, sale and use of animal traps. If the Act and its enforcement are to be strengthened, this provision is essential. We would like to reiterate that the use of steel/iron-spring traps is banned in several countries across the world. These traps can cause extreme injury and even death, not just to animals but human beings as well. We strongly recommend that a definition of such traps, and a provision penalising their manufacture, sale and use be incorporated in the Act.

2. The Bill seeks to delete Section 12 (bb). We would like to reiterate that this is an extremely important provision which ensures that no killing of animals can take place in the name of “population management”. The deletion of this provision will weaken the protection afforded to scheduled species by the Act. We strongly oppose the move to delete this provision. 

3. The Bill seeks to add a new proviso to Section 20 which will allow for the transfer of private land even after the intention to declare an area as protected has been notified. We fear that this will result not simply in multiplying claims but also encourage unhealthy practices such as land-grabbing and profiteering. The entire purpose of Section 20 will be defeated by this proviso. We strongly recommend that this proviso is struck down from the Bill. 

4. The Bill seeks to amend Section 21(b), giving claimants in protected areas six months to claim their rights, as opposed to the two months currently provided for. The settlement of rights for most protected areas across the country already takes an unreasonable amount of time. This amendment will only further exacerbate those delays. Two months is a reasonable period for a claimant to assert his/her rights. We strongly recommend that this amendment is removed from the Bill. 

5. We had recommended that Section 35(8) is amended so that Section 18(A)(1) & (2) apply to National Parks as they do to Sanctuaries, and that Section 38V(2) is amended so that Sections 31 and 35(6) apply to Tiger Reserves as they do to National Parks. Even though they clearly strengthen the protection afforded to protected areas, these amendments have not been included. We strongly recommend that these two amendments are made.

6. We had recommended that Section 38V(5) sub-clauses (i) to (vii) inclusive should be deleted. There is already a procedure prescribed in Chapter IV for settlement of rights in National Parks and Sanctuaries that should apply to Tiger Reserves as well. Any impediment to voluntary relocation violates the Right to Life, enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution. The sub-clauses put restrictions on an individual’s wish to be relocated outside a Tiger Reserve, which is unconstitutional. We strongly recommend that the sub-clauses are deleted.

7. We had recommended that Section 39(1)(a) is extended to apply to specified plants as it should and does to animals, animals articles, trophies, etc. This amendment has not been included and again, we see no reason why. We strongly recommend that Section 39 is extended to apply to specified plants.

8. The Bill seeks to delete Section 40A of the Act. This is an important enabling provision that empowers the Central Government to ensure that the Act is implemented justly. Including the Central Government in Section 40(4) will not result in the same position, as Section 40A is much broader. It is essential for the Act’s flexibility and we can see absolutely no reason for its deletion. We strongly recommend that Section 40A is not deleted.

9. We had recommended the insertion of a new Section 50(1)(e) which will empower forest officers of the rank of Forest Guards and above to use force to prevent the commission of Category I and Category II offences inside National Parks, Sanctuaries and Tiger Reserves. This has not been included. In the face of armed poachers who kill schedule animals and do not even hesitate to attack forest officials, this is an essential power without which forest officers will be unable to effectively enforce the Act. We strongly recommend that this provision is included in the Bill.

10. We had strongly opposed the new categorisation of offences on the grounds that it afforded greater protection to well-known animals, while other similarly endangered species did not get this protection. This is unscientific and arbitrary and should not happen. While some minor changes have been made to Section 50B, we are very disappointed with this. On exactly what grounds do tigers, lions, elephants, rhinos and the other species mentioned in the proposed Section 50B(1)(a)(i) deserve greater protection than any of the other species listed in Schedule I and part II of Schedule II? We strongly recommend and reiterate that Category I offences should apply to all species listed in Schedule I and part II of Schedule II. That Category II offences should apply to all species listed in part I of Schedule II and Schedule III and that Category III offences should apply to all species listed in Schedule IV. Alternatively, the concept of categories should be removed altogether as it will confuse frontline staff and the present Section 51 should be amended simply to increase penalties.

11. We had recommended that Section 50 (3) and 55 be amended to allow Courts to take cognizance on the complaint of a police officer not below the rank of sub inspector. The police are investigating and prosecuting several cases of wildlife crime across the country. It is essential that the Act gives them the necessary powers to do so, rather than be a hindrance to the prosecution of these crimes. We strongly recommend that police officers are empowered under Section 50 (3) and Section 55.

12. The Bill seeks to delete Section 58Y of the Act. The deletion of this provision weakens the deterrent value of the Act as a lower punishment will be prescribed for this offence by Section 50B(3). We strongly recommend that Section 58Y of the Act should not be deleted.         

13. As an additional comment, there is growing concern about the increase in both the size of the peacock feather trade and instances of peacock deaths. We recommend that Section 43(3)(a) is deleted in the interests of conserving our National bird.  

14. Our last comment is that in the Definitions, Section 2, sub-section 37, a comma should be inserted after the words “land” and before the word “vegetation”.

We would like to make it very clear that positioning this amendment on the enhanced penal provisions alone will not achieve the stated goal of increasing deterrence against illegal hunting.

In view of the serious problems with the draft bill, we once again urge you not to push the bill any further towards legislation until the issues highlighted above have been satisfactorily dealt with.

Yours sincerely,

Praveen Bhargav, Wildlife First
Signed on behalf and in consultation with the following members:
Wildlife Protection Society of India - Belinda Wright; Reef Watch - Mitali Kakar; World Wide Fund for Nature-India - Ravi Singh; Bombay Natural History Society - Dr. Asad Rahmani; Dr. Divyabhanusinh Chavda; Valmik Thapar; Biswajit Mohanty; Dr. Bibhab Talukdar; Shekar Dattatri; Mahendra Vyas; Brijendra Singh; Dilip Khatau; Bonani Kakkar

Cc:             Addl. Director General (Wildlife), and Member Secretary, NBWL