Parliament passes Wildlife Bill: Questions remain on elephants, vermin

Source: The post is based on the articleParliament passes Wildlife Bill: Questions remain on elephants, verminpublished in Indian Express on 9th December 2022

What is the News?

The Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill 2022 has been passed by Rajya Sabha.

The Bill has invited scrutiny on two major issues: the exemption made to allow the transfer of captive elephants, and the sweeping powers given to the Centre to declare species as vermin.

About the Elephant Protection

In 1897, the Elephants Preservation Act prohibited the killing or capture of wild elephants unless in self-defense or to protect property and crops, or under a license issued by the district collector.

In 1927, the Indian Forest Act listed the elephant as ‘cattle’, prescribing the highest fine of Rs 10 for every impounded jumbo — in comparison, a cow attracted a fine of Re 1 and a camel of Rs 2.

The Wildlife (Protection) Act (WLPA),1972 identified the elephant along with the bullock, camel, donkey, horse, and mule, as a “vehicle”. Given the highest legal protection in 1977, the elephant was the only animal in WLPA’s Schedule-I that can still be owned legally — by means of inheritance or gift.

In 2003, WLPA was amended to prohibit trade in all captive wildlife and any (non-commercial) transfer across state boundaries without permission from the concerned chief wildlife warden.

Now, the Wildlife Protection Bill,2022 permits the transfer or transport of a captive elephant for a religious or any other purpose by a person having a valid certificate of ownership.

What are the objections to the present amendment? 

The sweeping ambit of “any other purpose” in the present amendment will empower elephant traders, put wild populations at greater risk of capture and defeat the very purpose of WLPA. Instead, the Parliamentary Standing Committee recommended that it should be limited to temple elephants kept for religious purposes.

– However, there is also a counter view that prohibition on commercial transfer only drove the live elephant trade underground as traders switched to dressing up commercial deals as gift deeds to bypass the 2003 amendment.

What is the stand of the new Bill on Vermin Species?

The Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2022 makes a significant amendment as it reduces the number of schedules from six to four. The Bill seeks to do away with Schedule V for vermin species entirely.

This gives the Centre direct power to declare any species to be ‘vermin’ and make way for them to be freely hunted. Thus, declaring any species as vermin becomes easier.

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