The Constitution of India directs the State to protect and improve the environment and safeguard wildlife and forests under its article 48A which was added to the Constitution by the 42nd Amendment in 1976. However, first law on protection of wildlife came into existence back in the nineteenth century in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 which defined animals, it declared killing or maiming of animals as a punishable offence. However, this was not a specific provision dealing exclusively with wildlife but it talked of animals that were domesticated and who were found in their natural habitat. Section 428 of IPC states that, whoever commits mischief by killing, poisoning, maiming or rendering useless any animal or animals of the value of ten rupees or upwards, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or with both. Sec. 429 IPC states that, whoever commits mischief by killing, poisoning, maiming or rendering useless, any elephant, camel, horse, mule, buffalo, bull, cow or ox, whatever may be the value thereof, or any other animal of the value of fifty rupees or upwards, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years or with fine or with both. Subsequently, in 1879 the British Government passed the Elephant Preservations Act which prohibited the killing, injuring or capturing of wild elephants, unless it was in self-defence.
In 1887, Wild Bird Protection Act was enacted to protect birds from getting killed during their breeding season. However, the legislation was limited as it prohibited the possession or sale of a few kinds of birds during the breeding season. The Act did not achieve the desired results as killing of those birds was not prohibited. As a consequence of unnecessary killing of birds and animals, a more comprehensive legislation was need of the hour. Therefore, to remedy the situation, the British government enacted the Wild Birds & Animal Protection Act, 1912. The said Act empowered the Provincial Government to declare the whole year or any part of the year as ‘close time’, during which certain kinds of wild birds or animals would not be killed and it was made unlawful to capture, kill, sell, buy or possess any such bird or animal. People who failed to comply with these provisions were punishable with fine.
In the year 1935, the Act was amended by the Wild Birds & Animals (Protection) Act and Section 11 was added by virtue of which the Provincial Government could declare any area to be a sanctuary for the birds or animals and their killing was made illegal. Any violation of Section 11 would result in penalties.
The concept of sanctuary was introduced in M/s. Ivory Traders & Manufacturers Association & Ors. v Union of India & Ors.
The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 was passed by the parliament under Article 252 of the Constitution of India, at the request of 11 states to provide a comprehensive framework for protection of wildlife. However, execution of the legislation proved inadequate in certain circumstances. Major changes were affected in the principal Act in 1986 by Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 1986. The ‘statement of object & reason’ for amendment came about in the M/s. Ivory Traders & Manufacturers Association, and Others v Union of India and Others by the Delhi High Court as it said that Under the scheme of the Act, trade or commerce in wild animals, their articles and trophies within the country is permissible and regulated Since there is hardly any market within the country for wild animals or articles and derivatives thereof, the stocks acquired for trade within the country are smuggled out to meet the demand in foreign markets. This stealthy trade is abetted by illegal practices of poaching which took a heavy toll of our wild animals and birds.
The main purpose of the further amendments was to introduce the idea of national parks and sanctuaries and territorial waters so as to protect the aquatic life and zoo authority was also formed by addition of Chapter IVA under the Act to regulate zoos.
The legislatures of the States like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal passed resolutions in pursuance of Art. 252 of the Constitution empowering the Parliament to pass the necessary legislation in regard to the protection of wild animals, birds and for all matters that were relevant to the same.
In addition to legislative changes, numbers of executive authorities were established to make sure that effective rules are made for implementation of the Act. National Board for Wildlife and State Board for Wildlife are the two authorities that discharge the function of policy framing, they also play role of advisor as they advise the government about the ways of promoting wildlife, they suggest ways of controlling poaching & illegal trade of wildlife and its products. In addition, National Board for Wildlife is responsible for the management of national parks, sanctuaries and other protected areas. In addition, the National Tiger Conservation Authority was also established under Wildlife Protection (Amendment) Act, 2006 with the twin objective of ‘conservation of tigers’ and ‘harmonization of the rights of tribal people living in & around the tiger reserves.
While the legislators were trying to protect the wildlife in natural habitats of India through a number of provisional frameworks that were further amended to cater needs of the judiciary while they were interpreting the laws to give maximum protection to the wildlife, and to make sure that the culprits do not get away due to loopholes in the legislation. Throughout the judicial history of the Wildlife Protection Law, the Supreme Court and the High Court were never hesitant to make sure that Wildlife Protection is as important as the protection of human life under our laws. In the case of State of Bihar v. Murad Ali Khan & others, the Hon’ble Supreme Court raised alarm of ecological imbalances and consequential environmental damage, stating the urgency of immediate, determined and effective steps to preserve wildlife, which surely was commended internationally.
The preservation of the fauna and flora and the species which are getting extinct at an alarming rate has been an urgent necessity for the survival of humanity and these laws are the only scope for the restoration. While in Ivory Traders Manufacturers Association v. Union of India, the Hon’ble Court upheld the prohibition on trade of Ivory by restricting the ‘fundamental right to freedom of trade’ by clearly stating that ‘trade and business at the cost of disrupting life forms and linkages necessary for the preservation of bio-diversity and cannot be permitted. In another case the Delhi high court observed that “wildlife is part of India’s heritage” it further said that the laws made for protection and preservation of the same come under public interest. The courts have also expanded scope of application of the Wildlife Protection in a number of ways. For example, the case of Chief Forest Conservator, Wildlife v. Nisar Khan, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India prohibited the trapping and of birds by declaring it as hunting within the purview of the Act. In WWF-I v. State of Orissa, the Hon’ble High Court of Orissa observed the importance of involving local people in the conservation process, and how they should be educated about the benefits of preservation of wildlife. In a recent case of Sansar Chand v. State of Rajasthan, the Hon’ble Supreme Court raised serious concerns over the state of wildlife protection in India in light of continuous poaching incidents.
Furthermore, in order to curb the illegal trade of wildlife and that of endangered species, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau has been established. Special organizations like Wildlife Institute of India, Bombay Natural History society and Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History are formed to conduct research on conservation of wildlife. Services like E-Surveillance has been started in Kaziranga National Park in Assam and borders of Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh to actively keep an eye on the movement of animals and rescue them from any deadly attack and the State Governments have been asked to strengthen the field formations and increase patrolling in and around the Protected Areas. Among many other legislations, The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act was also enacted in 1960 to prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on animals and to amend the laws relating to the prevention of cruelty to animals. And in any case any flora or fauna is threatened.
The Mining and Mineral Development Regulation Act 1957 aims to minimise and mitigate adverse environmental impacts particularly in respect of ground water, air, ambient noise and land. Also, to ensure minimal ecological disturbance, in terms of bio-diversity, flora, fauna and habitat.
India envisions a country that practises sustainable development and the Biological diversity act supervises any use of biological resources that are procured from forests, biospheres, aquatics and terrestrial ecosystems and ensures sustainable use of them.
Submitted by: Shiksha Singh