By - Smt. Kalpana Palkhiwala (Assistant Director M & C, PIB, New Delhi)
The illegal trade in wildlife is a global issue. From animal parts, like tiger bones and musk glands to live reptiles, birds and ivory, poachers and smugglers illegally poach and traffic a variety of wild plant and animal species. The two major categories of traded items are live specimens of wildlife species and products from wildlife species.
The wildlife products mostly traded illegally from our country are musk, ivory Rhino horns, Tiger and Leopard skins and bones for oriental medicines and food; Snakes and Monitor Lizard skins, feathers for decoration turtle for meat and soups and Tibetan Antelope for shawls.
Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972
The Government enacted a comprehensive legislation “Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972” with objective of effective control by poaching and illegal trade in wildlife and its products.
The Act has been amended in 1982, 1986, 1991, 2002, and in 2006 to make the provisions of the Act more stringent. Hunting of all species was banned in 1991.
Realizing the global nature of the illegal wildlife trade, the “Conservation on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora” was signed at Washington on 3rd March, 1973. The Government deposited the instruments of ratification on 20th July, 1976. The provisions of the Convention and the export policy of the country if effectively used, provide the Government with adequate legislative powers to deal with illegal wildlife trade.
Legal Protection Measures against Hunting
Hunting of wild animals is prohibited except for exceptional circumstances. The Wildlife Act prescribes stringent punishment for hunting and illegal trade from fine to imprisonment. These includes:
i. For hunting and illegal trade in wild animals belonging to Schedule I and Part II of the Schedule II – Minimum 3 years imprisonment extendable to seven years and a minimum fine of Rs. 10,000/-
ii. For hunting and illegal trade in wild animals belonging to other Schedules – Imprisonment upto three years or a fine upto Rs. 25,000/- or both. Such offences can also be compounded, the amount of composition not exceeding Rs. 25,000/-
iii. For offences in relation to zoos, the punishment prescribed is imprisonment for upto six months or a fine of upto Rs. 2,000/- or with both.
iv. In addition to the above punishments, the court trying the offence may also order the forfeiture of any equipment, vehicle or weapon to cancel any wildlife license or permit held by the person, as well as cancel the Arms license and debar for an Arms license for a period of five years.
v. There is also a provision for Forfeiture of Property of offenders who are awarded sentence of three years or more of imprisonment.
Steps to Curb Poaching and Illegal Trade
The Government has taken many steps to curb poaching of wildlife and illegal trade.
A special co-ordination committee under the chairmanship of the Secretary (E&F) has been constituted. The CBI has been empowered to investigate wildlife offence cases as per the decision of this committee.
The States of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chandigarh, Goa, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Karnataka, Meghalya, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Tamilnadu, Tripura, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh have formed the State level/District level co-ordination committees for the control of illegal trade, smuggling, trafficking of Wildlife and its products.
Special training is organized for the wildlife officers at the Sardar Vallabhai Police Academy, Hyderabad.
Regional meeting of Chief Wildlife Wardens, Southern states is periodically held to work out a joint strategy for protection of elephant and meetings with Principle Secretaries (Forests) and the Chief Wildlife Wardens of the States is held regularly in the Ministry to discuss the matters relating to wildlife conservation and prevention of illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products.
Conservation and Protection Measures
By amending the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 in 2006, the Directorate of Project Tiger has become National Tiger Conservation Authority. It is to give impetus to the existing initiatives against illegal trade in wildlife especially tigers.
The Government has set up four Regional Offices at Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta and Chennai to control illegal trade in wildlife and its products. These offices are responsible for import and export of wild animals and plants from the major airports and seaports. In addition, there are 3 more sub-regional offices located at Amritsar, Guwahati and Cochin to assist these regional offices in the responsibilities of controlling illegal trade. These offices have seized many important wildlife and products of precious and endangered wild animals, which were meant for trade in international market.
India is also a signatory to Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and trade in wildlife and its product is governed by the Convention. Most of the endangered Indian wild animals species are covered under CITES Appendices and trade is permitted only after due consideration by the management and the technical authorities of the country.
A Special Co-ordination Committee with Secretary (Environment & Forests), as Chairman and Special Secretary (Home), Director, CBI and representative of the Chairman, Central Board of Excise & Customs has been created to ensure better co-ordination in the efforts to curb smuggling of wildlife products.
Training and Workshops of various enforcement agencies for effective intelligence gathering and law enforcement are also being conducted regularly.
India is a signatory to many international conventions responsible for protection of bio-diversity and its habitat. Important conventions include:
i. Convention on Biological Diversity
ii. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
iii. World Heritage Convention
iv. Convention on Migratory Species and
v. Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar Convention)
Co-ordination with Neighbouring Countries
India has signed a Protocol with Republic of China for taking up joint measures to crack down illegal activities of poaching of tigers, smuggling and selling of tiger bones and their derivatives. A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed with Nepal to establish a Joint Task Force to check Trafficking across borders.
Infrastructure-The problem of poaching has been compounded by the financial stringency prevailing in most of the states due to which total ban on new recruitment have been imposed and in certain case, there are 30 to 40 percent vacancies in the forest department. Funds for recurring expenditure like patrolling, maintenance of vehicles, sets and sometimes even for supply of uniforms are not available.
The modus operandi- Attracted by lucrative prices, organized mafias have entered the field of poaching and illegal trade of wildlife and its products. Shooting of animals by guns has given place to poisoning of animals. The carcass or the body parts of dead animals are then expeditiously transported to certain metros for processing and smuggling outside the country. The presence of forest department outside forest boundary is very notional and it is therefore likely, that significant number of cases go undetected.
As per the provisions of the amendments made in 2006, ‘National Tiger Conservation Authority’ has been formed. The constitution of National Wildlife Crime Bureau is also now included in the wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, through this amendment.
National Wildlife Crime Bureau (NWCB)
The Bureau is envisaged as a multi-disciplinary approach to combat the organized crime against wildlife and trade in wildlife and its derivatives. It will be headed by Additional Director General of Forest and will have its Headquarters at New Delhi and Regional Offices at Jabalpur, Mumbai, Chennai, Cochin, Kolkata, Guwahati, Imphal and Amritsar.
Objectives of NWCB
1) To act as a multi agency unit with full time officer from Forest and Wildlife Departments and various para military forces ( Police, DRI, CBI, IB, ITBP, BSF), Customs.
2) To develop a National Level Policy for containing the trade, enforcement and capacity building of the State Forest Departments to carry out enforcement and investigation in a professional manner.
3) To implement the resolutions and decisions taken under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES).
4) To co-operate with the Interpol Wildlife Crime Working Group, the World Customs Organisation, the CITES Tiger Enforcement Task Force and various other Law Enforcement Agencies inside the country.
5) To gather and analyze intelligence related to organized wildlife crime activities and to disseminate the same to State and Regional Enforcement Agencies for swift action to apprehend the criminals.
6) To undertake joint operations with counterpart agencies in other countries.
7) To maintain a data bank related to wildlife crimes .
8) To monitor trade and advise the on changes required in policy and legislation from time to time.
9) To develop infrastructure and capacity for scientific and professional investigation into wildlife crimes and assist State Governments to ensure better success of cases related to wildlife crimes.
There are five regional offices and five Border Units of the Bureau. The regional centers are at New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata and five border units are at Guwahati, Chandigarh, Bareilly, Siliguri and Gorakhpur.