Wildlife & Biodiversity

Rajya Sabha passes Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill 2021

Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill allows for the transfer of elephants for ‘religious and other purposes’  

By Shuchita Jha
Published: Thursday 08 December 2022
Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2021 passed by Rajya Sabha despite debates, objections
Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav speaking in the Rajya Sabha on the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2021. Screengrab from Rajya Sabha TV Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav speaking in the Rajya Sabha on the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2021. Screengrab from Rajya Sabha TV

The Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill, making significant amendments to the Wildlife (Protection Act (WLPA), 1972 was passed by the Rajya Sabha in the winter session of Parliament December 8, 2022. The Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in August this year. This happened despite concerns and objections by wildlife activists.

The Bill aims to increase protection for species that are protected by law. It plans to do this by implementing the provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in the Act.

One of the most important amendments has been made to Section 43 by permitting elephants, Schedule I animals, to be used for ‘religious or any other purpose’.

This amendment received heavy criticism from wildlife activists and animal experts but the Bill was passed by the Upper House of Parliament nevertheless.

Read Activists point to ‘frightening trend’ of wild elephants being brought into captive elephant trade

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals India had pointed out that the ‘any other purpose’ appears to have a limitless meaning, thereby potentially increasing the demand for illegal capture of these animals in the wild.

Congress member of Parliament (MP) Vivek K Tankha said, “There are 2,675 captive elephants in India and only 1,251 have ownership certificates. There is a huge elephant congregation whose ownership certificate is not decided. If you leave this provision so weak and indeterminate, it will cause problems,” reported the legal website Live Law.

Alok Hisarwala Gupta of the Centre for Research on Animal Rights based in Goa told Down To Earth that as a conservationist working on animal rights, he was concerned about the clause on transfer of elephants for religious and ‘other’ purposes as it is extremely problematic. The predominant discussion in Parliament was about the ‘elephant problem’.

He said, “This Bill has been very robustly discussed — from the first time it was introduced, till now. A number of MPs have spoken about it.

“But they have made these unfair remarks that there were too many elephants in the wild, giving rise to human-animal conflict and that sending them off to temples will be a win-win situation as it will reduce conflict and keep the temples happy,” Gupta added.

Read Wildlife Protection Amendment Bill: Why ‘religious or any other purpose’ clause has enraged animal activists

He said these remarks were very dangerous. “And this will now be official policy. It is very frightening,” Gupta noted.

Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav said illegal animal trade in India is regulated under the Customs Act, 1962; Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992; Exim Policy and Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

However, the Bill was brought since CITES requires an independent framework for wildlife protection, according to Live Law.

Yadav also said the Bill will be beneficial for tribal and forest-dwelling communities as it permits activities like grazing, movement of livestock, etc.

Other amendments introduced by the Bill include the insertion of a new Schedule for species listed under CITES Appendices as well as the constitution of a Standing Committee to exercise powers and duties delegated by the State Wildlife Boards, in Section 6.

A proposed new Section 49E provides for the designation of a Management Authority by the central government.

The Authority will be responsible for the issuance of permits and certificates for trade in scheduled specimens in accordance with the CITES and the submission of reports.

It shall also perform other functions that may be necessary to implement the provisions of the Convention.

Another Section 49F will empower the Centre to designate one or more institutes engaged in research on species as a Scientific Authority to advise the Management Authority and monitor the export permits granted for specimens of species listed in Appendix II of Schedule IV and the actual export of such specimens.

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