The Indian Parliament enacted the Wildlife (Protection) Act in 1972 i.e. Wildlife Protection Act 1972, which provides for the safeguard and protection of the wildlife (flora and fauna) in the country. This is important legislation and forms an integral part of the environment and ecology sections of the UPSC syllabus.
India is the first nation in the world to have made provisions for environmental protection in the constitution. On 5th June 1972, the topic of the environment was first discussed as an issue at the U.N. Conference of Human Environment in Stockholm, and thereafter 5th June is celebrated as World Environment Day.
Soon after various acts were passed such as the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution ) Act 1974, Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution ) Act 1981, and subsequently Environment(Protection) Act 1986.
Wildlife Protection Act 1972
The Wildlife (Protection) Act is a hallmark in the history of wildlife protection in India. Forest and Wildlife come in Concurrent subject and both Parliament and State legislative assemblies can legislate on this subject.
In 1972, these two subjects were in State List and so Parliament legislated the act under Article 312 where Rajya Sabha passes a resolution to give Parliament the power to legislate on State subjects. By the 42nd amendment, these two subjects were transferred to the Concurrent List.
Among other reforms, the Act established schedules of protected plant and animal species; hunting or harvesting these species was largely outlawed. The Act provides for the protection of wild animals, birds, and plants; and for matters connected therewith or ancillary or incidental thereto. It extends to the whole of India.
It has six schedules that give varying degrees of protection. Schedule I and part II of Schedule II provide absolute protection – offenses under these are prescribed the highest penalties.
Species listed in Schedule III and Schedule IV are also protected, but the penalties are much lower.
Schedule V includes the animals which may be hunted. The specified endemic plants in Schedule VI are prohibited from cultivation and planting. The hunting to the Enforcement authorities has the power to compound offenses under this Schedule (i.e. they impose fines on the offenders).
The act has been amended in 1982, 1986, 1991 and 1993 and 2006.
Constitutional Provisions for the Wildlife Act
- Article 48-A: “The State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard forest and wildlife of the country”. This article was added to the Constitution by the 42nd Amendment in 1976.
- Article 51-A(g): ”It shall be the fundamental 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”.
- Article 21: Right to a clean environment.
Need for the Wildlife Protection Act
Wildlife is a part of ‘forests’ and this was a state subject until the Parliament passed this law in 1972. Now it is the Concurrent List. Reasons for a nationwide law in the domain of environment particularly wildlife include the following:
- India is a treasure-trove of varied flora and fauna. Many species were seeing a rapid decline in numbers. For instance, it was mentioned by Edward Pritchard Gee (A naturalist), that at the turn of the 20th century, India was home to close to 40000 tigers. But, a census in 1972 showed this number drastically reduced to about 1827.
- A drastic decrease in the flora and fauna can cause ecological imbalance, which affects many aspects of climate and the ecosystem.
- The most recent Act passed during the British era in this regard was the Wild Birds and Animals Protection, 1935. This needed to be upgraded as the punishments awarded to poachers and traders of wildlife products were disproportionate to the huge financial benefits that accrue to them.
- There were only five national parks in India prior to the enactment of this Act.
Schedules of the Wildlife Protection Act
There are six schedules provided in the Wildlife Protection Act. They are discussed below –
- This Schedule covers endangered species.
- These species need rigorous protection and therefore, the harshest penalties for violation of the law are under this Schedule.
- Species under this Schedule are prohibited to be hunted throughout India, except under threat to human life.
- Absolute protection is accorded to species on this list.
- The Trade of these animals is prohibited.
- Examples: tiger, blackbuck, Himalayan Brown Bear, Brow-Antlered Deer, Blue whale, Common Dolphin, Cheetah, Clouded Leopard, hornbills, Indian Gazelle, etc.
- Animals under this list are also accorded high protection.
- Their trade is prohibited.
- They cannot be hunted except under threat to human life.
- Examples: Kohinoor (insect), Assamese Macaque, Bengal Hanuman langur, Large Indian Civet, Indian Fox, Larger Kashmir Flying Squirrel, Kashmir Fox, etc.
Schedule III & IV
- This list is for species that are not endangered.
- This includes protected species but the penalty for any violation is less compared to the first two schedules.
- Hunting: Not allowed.
- Examples: hyena, Himalayan rat, porcupine, flying fox, Malabar tree toad, etc.
- This schedule contains animals that can be hunted.
- Examples: mice, rats, common crow, fruit bats, etc.
- This list contains plants that are forbidden from cultivation.
- Examples: pitcher plant, blue vanda, red vanda, kuth, etc.
Salient Features of Wildlife Protection Act
This Act provides for the protection of a listed species of animals, birds, and plants, and also for the establishment of a network of ecologically-important protected areas in the country.
- The Act provides for the formation of wildlife advisory boards, wildlife wardens, specifies their powers and duties, etc.
- It helped India become a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
- CITES is a multilateral treaty with the objective of protecting endangered animals and plants.
- It is also known as the Washington Convention and was adopted as a result of a meeting of IUCN members.
- For the first time, a comprehensive list of the endangered wildlife of the country was prepared.
- The Act prohibited the hunting of endangered species.
- Scheduled animals are prohibited from being traded as per the Act’s provisions.
- The Act provides for licenses for the sale, transfer, and possession of some wildlife species.
- It provides for the establishment of wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, etc.
- Its provisions paved the way for the formation of the Central Zoo Authority. This is the central body responsible for the oversight of zoos in India. It was established in 1992.
- The Act created six schedules which gave varying degrees of protection to classes of flora and fauna.
- Schedule I and Schedule II (Part II) get absolute protection, and offenses under these schedules attract the maximum penalties.
- The schedules also include species that may be hunted.
- The National Board for Wildlife was constituted as a statutory organization under the provisions of this Act.
- This is an advisory board that offers advice to the central government on issues of wildlife conservation in India.
- It is also the apex body to review and approve all matters related to wildlife, projects of national parks, sanctuaries, etc.
- The chief function of the Board is to promote the conservation and development of wildlife and forests.
- No alternation of boundaries in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries can be done without the approval of the NBWL.
- It is chaired by the Prime Minister. It has 47 members including the Prime Minister. Among these, 19 members are ex-officio members. Other members include three Members of Parliament (two from Lok Sabha and one from Rajya Sabha), five NGOs, and 10 eminent ecologists, conservationists, and environmentalists.
- The Act also provided for the establishment of the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
- It is a statutory body of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change with an overall supervisory and coordination part, performing capacities as given in the Act.
- Its mandate is to strengthen tiger conservation in India.
- It gives statutory authority to Project Tiger which was launched in 1973 and has put the endangered tiger on a guaranteed path of revival by protecting it from extinction.
Protected Areas under the Wildlife Protection Act
There are five types of protected areas as provided under the Act. They are described below.
1. Sanctuaries: “Sanctuary is a place of refuge where injured, abandoned, and abused wildlife is allowed to live in peace in their natural environment without any human intervention.”
- They are naturally-occurring areas where endangered species are protected from poaching, hunting, and predation.
- Here, animals are not bred for commercial exploitation.
- The species are protected from any sort of disturbance.
- Animals are not allowed to be captured or killed inside the sanctuaries.
- A wildlife sanctuary is declared by the State government by a Notification. Boundaries can be altered by a Resolution of the State Legislature.
- Human activities such as timber harvesting, collecting minor forest products, and private ownership rights are permitted as long as they do not interfere with the animals’ well-being. Limited human activity is permitted.
- They are open to the general public. But people are not allowed unescorted. There are restrictions as to who can enter and/or reside within the limits of the sanctuary. Only public servants (and his/her family), persons who own immovable property inside, etc. are allowed. People using the highways which pass through sanctuaries are also allowed inside.
- Boundaries of sanctuaries are not generally fixed and defined.
- Biologists and researchers are permitted inside so that they can study the area and its inhabitants.
- The Chief Wildlife Warden (who is the authority to control, manage and maintain all sanctuaries) may grant permission to persons for entry or residence in the sanctuary for the study of wildlife, scientific research, photography, the transaction of any lawful business with persons residing inside, and tourism.
- Sanctuaries can be upgraded to the status of a ‘National Park’.
- Examples: Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary (Rann of Kutch, Gujarat); Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu (oldest bird sanctuary in India); Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary (Karnataka).
2. National Parks: “National Parks are the areas that are set by the government to conserve the natural environment.”
- A national park has more restrictions as compared to a wildlife sanctuary.
- National parks can be declared by the State government by Notification. No alteration of the boundaries of a national park shall be made except on a resolution passed by the State Legislature.
- The main objective of a national park is to protect the natural environment of the area and biodiversity conservation.
- The landscape, fauna, and flora are present in their natural state in national parks.
- Their boundaries are fixed and defined.
- Here, no human activity is allowed.
- Grazing of livestock and private tenurial rights are not permitted here.
- Species mentioned in the Schedules of the Wildlife Act are not allowed to be hunted or captured.
- No person shall destroy, remove, or exploit any wildlife from a National Park or destroy or damage the habitat of any wild animal or deprive any wild animal of its habitat within a national park.
- They cannot be downgraded to the status of a ‘sanctuary’.
- Examples: Bandipur National Park in Karnataka; Hemis National Park in Jammu & Kashmir; Kaziranga National Park in Assam. See more on the List of National Parks in India.
3. Conservation Reserves: The State government may declare an area (particularly those adjacent to sanctuaries or parks) as conservation reserves after consulting with local communities.
4. Community Reserves: The State government may declare any private or community land as a community reserve after consultation with the local community or an individual who has volunteered to conserve the wildlife.
5. Tiger Reserves: These areas are reserved for the protection and conservation of tigers in India. They are declared on the recommendations of the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
National Parks vs Wildlife Sanctuaries
Features of Wildlife Sanctuary
- It is a natural area that is reserve by a governmental or private agency for the protection of particular species.
- The area is designated for the protection of wild animals.
- Only animals are conserved, Could be private property also, outside activities allowed.
- IUCN has defined its Category IV type of protected areas.
Features of National Park:
- Reserve area of land, owned by the government.
- The area is protected from human exploitation, industrialization, and pollution.
- No cutting, Grazing allowed, Outside Species Allowed
- Conservation of ‘wild nature’ for posterity and as a symbol of national pride.
- International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and its World Commission on Protected Areas, has defined its Category II type of protected areas.