- A latest report by a parliamentary standing committee that analysed the amendments proposed to India’s Wildlife Protection Act 1972 by the union government has said that human-animal conflict is a complex issue and needs legislative backing.
- The committee suggested a formation of a conflict management committee to devise a mechanism to deal with conflict cases and suggested the inclusion of non-official members in the standing committee of the state wildlife boards.
- The parliamentary committee agreed with enhancing the fines for violating of the wildlife law but called for stricter enforcement of the law.
Human-Animal Conflict (HAC) is a complex issue that needs legislative backing for effective management, a parliamentary panel has noted. Indicating that it is as serious an issue as hunting, the panel has recommended that state governments constitute human-animal conflict management advisory committees for planning, monitoring and mitigation of such cases.
The recommendation was made by the Indian parliament’s standing committee on science and technology, environment, forests and climate change which is headed by Indian National Congress’s Jairam Ramesh, who is also India’s former environment minister.
The Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2021 was introduced in the parliament in December 2021 by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) following which it was referred to the standing committee. In its report on April 21, 2022, the committee noted that the bill “does not contain any specific provisions to deal with the concerns raised by members of the Committee on the issue of human-animal conflict which, in many ways, reflects on the success of conservation and protection programmes for which India has been a pioneer and has emerged as a world leader.”
The panel asked the union environment ministry to consider inserting a section for the constitution of a human-animal conflict management advisory committee with the Chief Wildlife Warden of the state as its chairperson, and an officer of the state police department (not below the rank of an Inspector General in charge of Law & Order) as its vice-chairperson. It suggested the inclusion of two eminent wildlife ecologists with specific expertise in human-wildlife conflict solutions, a wildlife veterinarian with specific expertise in chemical immobilisation and translocation of conflict-prone species, a representative of a non-governmental organisation with experience in mitigation of human-wildlife conflict and a sociologist with experience in mitigation of human-animal conflict as it members.
The panel said that the advisory committee shall assess the extent of human-animal conflict and finalise an adaptive action plan covering all aspects including equipment, trained personnel, advice on quantum of compensation to affected people, site-specific plans including the creation of viable wildlife corridors to ensure long-term resolution of conflict, Standard Operating Procedures including prescription of scientific capture, translocation and population management techniques based on best practices.
In India, every year hundreds of people and animals die due to human-animal conflict. According to the MoEFCC, 125 humans died in conflict with tigers between 2018-2020 and 1,503 humans died in the human-elephant conflict between 2018-19 and 2020-21.
Under the present system, a compensation of Rs. 500,000 is given in case of death or permanent incapacitation of a person in human-wildlife conflict, Rs. 200,000 for grievous injury, and Rs. 25,000 for treatment of minor injuries.
Indian legislature and CITES commitments
The Wild Life (Protection) Act (WPA), 1972 provides the legal framework for the protection of various species of wild animals and plants, management of their habitat and the regulation and control of trade in wild animals, plants and their parts and products. In the past, it has been amended several times with the last amendment in 2006. Last year, the union government introduced new amendments – about 50 – many of which were severely criticised.
According to the MoEFCC, the six major objectives of the 2021 Bill are about ensuring international trade in wildlife is legal, sustainable and traceable by implementing the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), protection of native Indian gene pool, improved management of protected areas, improved care for seized and surrendered wild animal, ensuring deterrence by enhancing fines and rationalisation of Schedules to the existing Act.
The environment ministry maintains that the most important reason for the bill is the “urgent need to provide legislative backing to commitments made by India over the past many years to CITES”. The parliamentary committee headed by Ramesh agreed that such domestic legislation has now become essential to demonstrate India’s long-standing commitment to implement the provisions of CITES in letter and spirit, but noted that the most appropriate way to do so would have been to bring amendments in the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 and not in the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 since the mandate of CITES is the sustainable use of biodiversity.
“But that has not been the route adopted by the MoEFCC … Even assuming that the amendments to the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 are needed, the Committee is of the opinion that the approach adopted by the MoEFCC to provide legislative sanctity to India’s commitments to CITES in the Bill, is not very convenient. The approach proposed in the Bill will make the principal Act too unwieldy and complicated and could introduce contradictions since the basic construct of the 1972 Act has always been prohibitive whereas the underlying theme of CITES is facilitative or enabling,” said the parliamentary panel in its report while adding that there are other options available for giving legislative sanctity to India’s CITES commitments.
On the new bill proposing to replace the existing six Schedules in the WPA 1972 with three Schedules – Schedule I for species that will enjoy the highest level of protection, Schedule II for species that will be subject to a lesser degree of protection and Schedule III that covers plants – the committee said it agrees but noted that “it finds a number of species missing in all the three Schedules”. It urged the MoEFCC to make Schedules more comprehensive.
Don’t make state wildlife board ‘rubber stamp’ for faster clearances
The parliamentary committee emphasised that one specific amendment that has caused considerable anguish in the wildlife conservation community is about creating a Standing Committee of the State Board for Wild Life (SBWL).
It said that the reason given by the MoEFCC behind this is to make the functioning of the SBWL more purposive but the “legitimate worry is that such a Standing Committee with no more than 12 members will be packed with official members, exercise all powers of the SBWL and take decisions independent of the SBWL itself and end up being a rubber stamp for faster clearances of projects.”
At present, the SBWL is chaired by the chief minister of the state and the parliamentary panel’s report noted that all state governments that appeared before them were of the view that the chief minister should continue to do so.
The parliamentary committee said if a Standing Committee of the SBWL is to be formed, then it “must mandatorily have” as its members “at least one-third of the non-official members of the SBW, at least three institutional members (like the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education and the National Tiger Conservation Authority) and the Director of the Wildlife Institute of India or his/her nominee.”
“The same composition should be applicable to the National Board for Wild Life (NBWL) as well,” the panel further said.
The committee highlighted that it received around 60 representations from various individuals and institutions on the Bill. “A number of these representations are very substantive and detailed,” said the committee and urged the MoEFCC to carefully study them “for they contain many valuable suggestions” for making the WPA 1972 more effective.
Debadityo Sinha, an ecologist and senior resident fellow with the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, appreciated the parliamentary panel for taking into account many concerns that conservationists and wildlife experts had raised after the government had unveiled the amendments to the act.
“It is heartening to see this report by the parliamentary panel. They have taken into account many concerns that were raised against the amendment – whether it is about issues related to the trade and breeding of native Indian species or about protecting the gene pool of species native to India. Another crucial recommendation is mandating that at least one-third of members of the standing committee of the state and national boards of wildlife are non-official members,” Sinha, who gave written submissions on behalf of Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy to the committee, told Mongabay-India.
Invasive species and transport of animals
It also expressed its broad agreement with the amendments proposed for the protection of the native Indian gene pool. “However, it would also like to point out that species could be alien and invasive as far as a particular ecosystem within the country is concerned. Invasive alien species may not be just restricted to those from outside India. There must be a well-considered scientific and transparent process for proposing, evaluating, listing (and delisting as well) invasive alien species, along with enabling provisions directing the formulation of specific management measures,” the committee noted.
On this, Sinha said, “The bill, although introduced regulations for alien invasive species, exempted native species which are known as invasives. The committee took note of the concern.”
Another contentious clause in the bill that many expert organisations and conservationists raised in their representation to the parliamentary committee was about the transfer or transport of live animals. The panel in its report said while they are in broad agreement with the amendments being proposed for improved care for seized and surrendered wild animals the specific amendment about live elephants has raised serious concern in the wildlife conservation community including amongst some state governments.
The committee “strongly” recommended the deletion of clause 27 in the proposed Bill which implies that the prohibition on the transfer of animals by any means won’t apply to live elephants.
Banner image: Every year hundreds of people and animals die in India due to human-wildlife conflict. Photo by Goldentakin/Flickr.