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Wildlife Researchers, Conservationists, Wellwishers

In the upcoming session of the Indian Parliament, MPs will debate whether researchers and poachers should be treated in the same manner for a breach of law.

A new bill proposes to impose substantial penalties, including imprisonment, when researchers with permission to enter a forest area default in any way. At the same time, a poacher or a person in possession banned wildlife product is let off with a fine.

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"The structure of penalties seems to be extremely illogical and therefore needs...immediate attention", wrote former member of the National Board for Wildlife and Wildlife First trustee, Mr. Praveen Bhargav in a letter to Smt Jayanthi Natarajan, the Minister of State for Environment and Forests. You can read the full letter on the website of Down to Earth magazine.

In Indian legislation, The Wildlife Protection Act is an umbrella act that provides a framework for protection of wild animals, birds and plants, and all matters connected with them. The Act lists animal species that are at risk of going extinct; species most at risk are in Schedule I, and so on till Schedule V. Animals included in schedules are completely protected from hunting, and trade in these animals or animal parts is strictly restricted. Plants at risk are listed in Schedule VI.

After being introduced in 1973, the Act has been through six amendments. During the monsoon session of the Indian Parliament, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, is planning the next set of amendments. A Bill containing these was introduced in the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of the Indian Parliament) earlier in the monsoon session.

The Wildlife Protection Act 1973 (as amended until 1993)

On a positive note from a researcher's perspective, the Act will get a section on "scientific research," and it states that any proposal for scientific research should be "disposed of" in a maximum of 120 days. Until now, granting a permit was at the discretion of one person – the Chief Wildlife Warden. That will also change – research permits will be granted based on eligibility prescribed by the amendment.

However, the same Bill will enforce very different penalties for minor violations of research permits, and possession of animal parts. In Mr. Bhargav's words, "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 Bill states that violation of a research permit, however minor, " 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 ($370)." On the other hand, illegal wildlife trade involving species listed in Schedules I to IV, will be punishable with imprisonment up to three years, OR a fine, OR both.

Signed,

Upamanyu Raju

This petition closed almost 6 years ago

How this will help

In short, the illegal wildlife trader can potentially get away with a fine, while a researcher violating their permit even slightly, will face a much more severe penalty. Whether researchers,...

In short, the illegal wildlife trader can potentially get away with a fine, while a researcher violating their permit even slightly, will face a much more severe penalty. Whether researchers, wildlife photographers and documentary film makers can continue their work with autonomy may will depend on this winter session of the Parliament.

So let us all come together and oppose the Legislation from passing a law that will choke the field of Wildlife Research which will ultimately lead to serious lapses in the Conservation of Indian Wildlife.

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