India is the first country in the world to have made provisions for the protection and conservation of environment in its constitution. On 5th June 1972, environment was first discussed as an item of international agenda in the U.N. Conference of Human Environment in Stockholm and thereafter 5th June is celebrated all over the world as World Environment Day.
Soon after the Stockholm Conference our country took substantive legislative steps for environmental protection. The Wildlife (Protection) Act was passed in 1972, followed by the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974, the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and subsequently the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 is a landmark in the protection of wildlife in India especially after the Second World War when the struggle for freedom started taking its shape and the wildlife was ignored to sustain at its own risks. The Indian Board of Wildlife (IBWL) was constituted in the year 1952 after the independence which took the task of preserving the natural wildlife habitats and saving the animals from probable extinction.
The provisions for environmental protection in the constitution were made within four years of Stockholm Conference, in 1976, though the 42nd amendment as follows:
Article-48-A of the constitution provides:
“The state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard forest and wildlife of the country.”
Article 51-A (g) Provides:
It shall be duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.”
Thus our constitution includes environmental protection and conservation as one of our fundamental duties. Some of the important Acts passed by the Government of India are discussed here.
The passing of the Wildlife Act of 1972 constitutes an important landmark in the history of wildlife legislation in the country.
This is because of the fact that the “Forest” including “Wildlife” was then a State subject falling in Entry 20 List II of Seventh Schedule, Parliament had no power to make law on the same except as provided in Articles 249,250 and 252 of the constitution .Having regard to the importance of the matter, the Act has been adopted by all the States except that of Jammu and Kashmir which has a similar law enacted for the purpose of wildlife protection. The operation of the Act is mandatory}’ in the Union Territories too.
1. The Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 provides the basic framework to ensure the protection and management of wildlife. The Act was amended subsequently in 1982, 1986, 1991 and 1993 to accommodate provision for its effective implementation.
The rationale for passing Act as stated in its Statement of Objects and Reasons are as follows:
2. The rapid decline of India’s wild animals and birds, one of the richest and most varied wildlife resources of the country has been a cause of grave concern.
3. Some wild animals and birds have already become extinct in this country and the other in danger of being so.
4. Areas which were once teeming with wildlife have become devoid of it and even in sanctuaries and National Parks the protection afforded to wildlife needs to be improved.
5. The Wild Birds and Animals Protection Act, 1935 has become completely outdated.
6. This existing laws not only have become outdated but also provide punishments, which are not commensurate with the offence and financial benefits that occur from poaching and trade in wildlife produce. Further, such laws mainly relate to control of hunting and do not emphasize the other factors
Salient features of the Act: The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 which we read today is a product of process which started long ago in 1887 for the protection of a few wild birds and after addition of wild animals in 1912 and specified plants in 1991 it covered almost all the wildlife resources which need protection and management. A few salient features of the Act are as follows:
1. The Wildlife Act of 1972 as amended in 1982, 1986, 1991 and 1993 has 7 Chapters, 66 Sections and 6 Schedules. The Act with its various amendments provides the necessary tool to prevent damage to the wildlife.
2. The rating of the Schedules I to V is in accordance with the risk of survival of the wildlife (fauna) enlisted in them. Animals included Schedule are provided for total protection from hunting and the trade and commerce related to such animals are strictly regulated. The schedule VI has been added to include the specified plant species to be protected by the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act of 1991.
3. An expert committee, constituted by the Indian Board of Wildlife considers amendments to the Act, as and when necessary.
4. With the amendment of the Act in 1991, powers of the State Governments have been withdrawn almost totally. Now the State Governments are not empowered to declare any wild animal a vermin. Further by addition of provision, immunization of livestock within a radius of 5 km from a National
Park or sanctuary has been made compulsory. Broadly speaking the amendment provides the follows:
1. Greater powers to enforcement authority.
2. Greater say to individuals or NGOs in matter concerning wildlife protection. The Central Government Officers as well as individuals now can file complaints in the court for offences.
3. NGOs like WWF-India and Traffic-India will make available technical and legal guidance when needed.
4. More impact on wildlife trade.
5. Setting up of a Central Zoo Authority.
6. Greater protection to wildlife through prohibiting hunting of wild animals other than vermin.
7. Provision to prohibit collection and exploitation of wild plants which are threatened with extinction.
8. Provision to extract and deal in snake venom for producing life saving drugs.
9. Provision to ban trade in Africa ivory.
10. Enhanced punishments for isolations.
11. Payment of rewards to persons helping in apprehension of offenders.
The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 , passed by the Indian Parliament a comprehensive national law with the sole aim of protecting wildlife and plants and for matters connected thereto or ancillary or incidental that to with a view to ensure the ecological and environmental security of the country. It not only prohibits hunting but also created protected areas and controls trade in wildlife products. To achieve these objectives it has created a separate and independent authority to protect and improve wildlife. The Act has been accepted and adopted by all the states except Jammu & Kashmir. The first and foremost purpose of this Act is to protect the habitats of wild animals.
However some of the major drawbacks of the Act include mild penalty to offenders, illegal trade of animal parts, pitiable condition of wildlife in zoos and little emphasis laid on to preserve plant genetic resources.
Laws exist to protect the wildlife from slaughter and to regulate hunting, but, unfortunately, the legal measures do not fully serve the deserved purpose. The destruction deplorably continues, at times, at an alarming rate. The depletion of the wildlife can be attributed largely to deforestation and inroads of human civilization into the forest areas. To cope up these problem seminars, awareness programme, workshops etc. should be organized at the district, block, and village levels along with the villagers, law enforcing machineries to make awareness about the evils. The economic conditions of the villagers are also required to be improved though: agriculture, horticulture, handloom & handicraft etc so that they can avoid the practice of poaching.
Sarungbam Lucy is a BSc, LLM with Specialised in Environmental Law and Legal Order