Context: Many ecologists are incensed that an inordinate number of species have been included in the new schedules of the Wildlife Protection (Amendment) Act, 2022, without an objective or replicable process. In brief, Schedule 1, which confers the highest protection, contains about 600 species of vertebrates and hundreds of invertebrates, while Schedule 2 contains about 2,000 species (with 1,134 species of birds alone).
Wildlife protection amendment Act 2022 – The amendment is primarily aimed at revising four aspects of the law: allowing delegation of functions of the State Boards for Wildlife (SBWLs) to a select set of people (“standing committee”) as is currently the case with the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL); a rework of the schedules that list species according to the levels of protection they need in view of the threats they face; providing for the implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES); and an exception to the requirement to obtain permission from the Chief Wildlife Warden for the transfer and transport of captive elephants for religious or other purposes.
Positive Key features:
- Holistic approach and widened scope – In the long title of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, for the words “protection of wild animals, birds and plants”, the words “conservation, protection and management of wild life” is substituted which points towards the change of focus towards the holistic approach.
- Addition of new schedule: a new schedule has been added for specimens listed in the Appendices under CITES (scheduled specimens).
- Invasive alien species – It empowers the central government to regulate or prohibit the import, trade, possession or proliferation of invasive alien species. The central government may authorise an officer to seize and dispose the invasive species.
- Management Authority : it will be appointed by the central government for the issuance of permits and certificates for trade in scheduled specimens in accordance with the CITES. Until now, CITES provisions were enforced through the Customs Act and not the Wildlife (Protection) Act, which was a major lacunae.
- Decentralized management: For sanctuaries falling under special areas, the management plan must be prepared after due consultation with the concerned Gram Sabha.
- Declaring conservation reserves by Centre: It empowers both Central and State governments to declare areas adjacent to national parks and sanctuaries as conservation reserve, Earlier only the state government had this power.
- Surrender of captive animals: Any person having a certificate of ownership can voluntarily surrender any captive animals or animal products to the Chief Wildlife Warden.
- Reduction of schedules has led to huge number of species falling in the same list which creates confusion as it is unclear where resources should be allocated on the basis of this list. The same level of protection is offered to tigers and jackals, to the great Indian bustard and common barn owls, to the king cobra and rat snakes.
- Unscientific classification for e.g. the presence of the spotted deer (chital) in Schedule 1. Common throughout India, these are invasive in the Andaman Islands and have caused untold harm to the vegetation and herpetofauna. But they cannot be legally culled or removed because of the WLPA.
- Commercial trade: It leaves the door open for commercial trade in elephants. There is concern that the amendments have not defined what purposes elephants can be used for and have perhaps made it easier for the animals to be transported across the country.
- Dilution of federal framework: It has also been criticized for diluting the federal framework by seeking to displace the State Boards of Wildlife, which are chaired by the Chief Minister, with a Standing Committee headed by the union Forest minister.
- Using animals for religious purpose: In Section 43, elephants, Schedule I animal, are permitted to be used for ‘religious or any other purpose’. Experts have also criticized the term ‘other purpose’
- Lack of ownership: There are 2,675 captive elephants in India and only 1,251 have ownership certificates. Experts believe that this unclear ownership was an issue and the provisions that are “weak and indeterminate which can cause problems.
- Hampering research: Experts believe that listing so many species in schedule 1 will impact research as paperwork involved in getting permits for research is tedious and time consuming.