A letter on behalf of researchers

The bill to amend the Wildlife Protection Act has provisions which, if approved, will lead to minimum imprisonment of up to three years and fine for even petty offences like simple trespass at field level and/or minor research/tourist permit condition violation

 
By Praveen Bhargav
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

The bill to amend the Wildlife Protection Act has provisions which, if approved, will lead to minimum imprisonment of up to three years and fine for even petty offences like simple trespass at field level and/or minor research/tourist permit condition violation

Many wildlife researchers are finding it difficult to either get research permits or discovering that the conditions imposed are constrictive to accomplish research goals. After extensive consultations with senior scientists, members of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL, 2007-2010) presented detailed suggestions to the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

The positive outcome of this is the inclusion of new sections in the bill to ammend the Wildlife Protection Act.

Section 2 (26 C) which defines "scientific research”

Section 12 A which takes away the Chief Wildlife Warden's discretionary power in respect of granting research permits but subject to eligibility as prescribed.

By virtue of a non-obstante clause, this section, will override all other provisions pertaining to scientific research including Section 28 which currently empowers the Chief Wildlife Warden with discretionary powers based on which he "may" grant permission, after the law comes into effect.

However, the structure of the penalty provisions in the bill pertaining to research raise concern. If approved, at field level this will lead to a minimum imprisonment term of up to three years and fine for even petty offences like simple trespass and/or minor research/tourist permit condition violation. On the other hand, more serious offences like sale/purchase/ transfer and trade of meat or animal article/trophies of wild animals listed in Part I of Schedule II, III and IV do not carry a compulsory imprisonment term. The punishment proposed is imprisonment upto three years or fine of one lakh rupees or both.

The proposed amendment of Section 63 empowers the Centre to frame Rules pertaining to Scientific Research. It is hoped that the Rules, in letter and spirit, are enabling in nature so that it facilitates research and academic freedom.

To redress the distortions and make the Wildlife Act enabling for researchers I wrote a letter on August 20 to the Minister for State, Environment and Forests, which I reproduce here.


Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan
Minister of State – Environment & Forests (Independent Charge)
Paryavaran Bhavan, Lodhi Road
New Delhi – 110 003
Hon’ble Minister:


Sub: Seeking correction of an anomaly in classification of offences in the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2013

Greetings. Having served as a member of the NBWL sub-committee on amendments to the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, during 2009-10, I have since been following up the matter. I’m aware that the Bill No. XXXI of 2013 was introduced in the Rajya Sabha during the current monsoon session.

On a careful scrutiny of the proposed amendments on enhanced penalties, there appears to be a serious anomaly in classification of offences that has crept in subsequent to the discussions during the last meeting of our sub-committee. I wish to bring to your urgent notice the following specific issues pertaining to Sections 51A and 51(4) which, if approved, will mandate a compulsory term of imprisonment for relatively lesser offences like a minor research permit violation

while making a far more serious offence involving animal articles and trade in scheduled animals a compoundable offence.

The proposed amendment of Section 51A reads - “51 A. (l) Where the offence relates to contravention of any other provision of this Act or any rule or order made thereunder, or the breach of any of the terms and conditions of any licence or permit granted under this Act, such offence shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and also with fine which may extend to twenty five thousand rupees:”

If approved, at field level this will lead to a minimum imprisonment term of upto three years and fine for even petty offences like simple trespass and/or minor research/tourist permit condition violation. On the other hand, more serious offences like sale/purchase/ transfer and trade of meat or animal article/trophies of wild animals listed in Part I of Schedule II, III and IV do not carry a compulsory imprisonment term. The punishment proposed is imprisonment upto three years or fine of one lakh rupees or both. The proposed section reads - “51(4) Where the offence relates to the sale or purchase or transfer or offer for sale

or trade of any animal specified in Part I of Schedule II, Schedule III and Schedule IV, or the meat of such animal or animal article, trophy, or uncured trophy derived from such animal, such offence shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees or with both:”

In other words, an illegal wildlife trader involved in sale of an animal article or meat of species like the Himalayan Black Bear (Entry 3B of Sch II Part I), Sambar (Entry 16 of SchIII) or Black naped Hare (Entry 4 of Sch IV) etc. can get away with only a fine while a researcher or conservationist who may inadvertently commit a minor violation of a permit condition would potentially face a minimum imprisonment term of upto three years and fine of upto twenty five thousand rupees.

In view of the reasons cited above, this structure of penalties seems to be extremely illogical and therefore needs your immediate intervention. I therefore request you to kindly review the said provisions and ensure that the following amendments in the bill are made at an appropriate stage before its passage in parliament –

1. Substitute the words “and also” with “or” in sub-section (1) of Section 51A;

2. In sub-section (4) of Section 51 - the word “may” before the word “extend” be substituted with “shall” - the word “or” after “three years” be replaced with “and”  the words “or with both” after “rupees” be omitted.

Thank you for your consideration and a response

Sincerely
Sd/-Praveen Bhargav
Trustee, Wildlife First
Former Member, National Board for Wildlife


Copy to: Dr.V. Rajagopalan IAS – Secretary Environment & Forests Govt. of India
Shri K. Jude Sekar IFS – DGF and Special Secretary
Shri S.S. Garbyal IFS – ADG (Wildlife) & Director Wildlife Preservation
Dr. Rajesh Gopal IFS – Member Secretary, NTCA

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