Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill and the Forests Rights
16, Dec 2022
Prelims level : Environment Mains level : GS-III Environment & Biodiversity | Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Eia
Why in News?
- Rajya Sabha passed the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2021. The Lok Sabha had passed the Bill in the Monsoon Session. While aspects of protecting species against wildlife trade in line with international standards have scrutinised by civil society, MPs and the Parliamentary Standing Committee, the impact of the criminal legal framework fostered by the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) is less known.
Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2022:
- The latest amendment invests in this conception of protected areas and species by adding to the list of protected species and augmenting the penal repercussions.
- The Bill amends the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 by increasing the species protected under the law.
- There are 50 amendments to the Act proposed in the Bill.
- Substituting the definition of ‘Tiger and other Endangered Species’ to ‘Wild Life’, this Bill includes flora, fauna and aqua under its protection.
- The Bill also regulates wild life trade as per the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Criminal laws and wildlife conservation in latest amendment:
- Criminal laws remain unchallenged: The need for criminal laws to assist wildlife conservation has remained unchallenged since its conception.
- Human- animal conflict not interpreted correctly: From regulated hunting to complete prohibition and the creation of ‘Protected Areas (PA)’ where conservation can be undertaken without the interference of local forest-dwelling communities, State and Forest Department control over forests and the casteist underpinnings of conservation would not have been possible without criminal law. In this context, pitting wildlife species against communities as human-animal conflict has eluded the true cost of criminalisation under the WPA.
- Questionable WPA’s policing framework: The recent move to increase penalties by four times for general violations (from ₹25,000 to ₹1,00,000) and from ₹10,000 to ₹25,000 for animals receiving the most protection should raise questions about the nature of policing that the WPA engenders.
Study by the Criminal Justice and Police Accountability Project (CPA Project) in Madhya Pradesh:
- Records found says forest dwellers are majority of accused in wildlife related crimes: found that persons from oppressed caste communities such as Scheduled Tribes and other forest-dwelling communities form the majority of accused persons in wildlife-related crimes.
- Found that forest department use threat of criminalisation for cooperation: The Forest Department was found to use the threat of criminalisation to force cooperation, apart from devising a system of using community members as informants and drawing on their loyalty by employing them on a daily wage basis.
- Cases filed not only for serious crimes: Cases that were filed under the WPA did not pertain solely to the comparatively serious offence of hunting; collecting wood, honey, and even mushrooms formed the bulk of prosecution in PAs.
- Cases files are still pending: Over 95% of the cases filed by the Forest Department are still pending.
- Most cases filed were for hunting were lesser protected animals: Hunting offences that were primarily filed against Schedule III and IV animals (wild boars) which have lesser protection than tigers and elephants formed over 17.47% of the animals ‘hunted’ between 2016-20. Among the animals hunted the highest, only one in top five belonged to Schedule I (peacock). Surprisingly, fish (only certain species relegated to Schedule I) formed over 8% of the cases filed. A whopping 133 cases pertaining to fishing (incorrectly classified as Schedule V species) were filed in the last decade in Madhya Pradesh.
- Making FRA subservient to the WPA: Forest rights, individual and collective, as part of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) were put in place to correct the injustice meted out by forest governance laws. These rights recognised forest-dependent livelihoods. But in inviolate PAs, making the FRA subservient to the WPA, thereby impeding its implementation.
What is forest rights Act, 2006?
- Recognizing rights of forest dwelling communities: The Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 recognizes the rights of the forest dwelling tribal communities and other traditional forest dwellers to forest resources, on which these communities were dependent for a variety of needs, including livelihood, habitation and other socio-cultural needs.
- Aim to balance rights and protect: It aimed to protect the marginalised socio-economic class of citizens and balance the right to environment with their right to life and livelihood.
- Individual rights: The Act encompasses Rights of Self-cultivation and Habitation which are usually regarded as Individual rights.
- Community forest rights: Community Rights as Grazing, Fishing and access to Water bodies in forests, Habitat Rights for PVTGs, Traditional Seasonal Resource access of Nomadic and Pastoral community, access to biodiversity, community right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge, recognition of traditional customary rights and right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource for sustainable use.
- Criminal cases filed by the department are rarely compounded since they are meant to create a ‘deterrent effect’ by instilling fear in communities. Fear is a crucial way in which the department mediates governance in protected areas, and its officials are rarely checked for their power. Unchecked discretionary policing allowed by the WPA and other forest legislations have stunted the emancipatory potential of the FRA. Any further amendments must take stock of wrongful cases (as in the case of fishing) and resultant criminalization of rights and lives of forest dwelling communities.