Environment

New Draft Wildlife Law Will Weaken Protection, Dilute Tribal Rights

Credit: Thangaraj Kumaravel/Flickr CC BY 2.0

Credit: Thangaraj Kumaravel/Flickr CC BY 2.0

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is gearing up to change two laws governing the country’s forests and wildlife, Business Standard‘s Nitin Sethi reported. These changes, if implemented, will have a direct impact on tribal rights as well.

A preliminary draft of the new law that will replace the Wildlife Protection Act has already been shared between select officials. Review of the law that will replace the Forest Act will begin once the government has set up an expert committee, Sethi said.

Responding to Business Standard‘s queries on behalf of the environment ministry, inspector general of forests S.K. Khanduri said, “I have been directed to inform that the ministry has not prepared any official draft legislation yet.”

A senior environment ministry official who asked to remain anonymous confirmed that the laws were under review, but said no formal draft of the wildlife law had been circulated yet. “We have informed parliament that we are reviewing the wildlife law. Right now, homework is going on. But, you cannot say there is a zero draft of the ministry. I am not aware of one. It is premature to comment. Our intention is to improve and strengthen the existing law and not dilute any provisions. The draft maybe one with some officers but its not the ministry’s draft,” the official told Business Standard.

The preliminary draft was accessed by Business Standard.

The current system has varying degrees of protection for different zones. ‘Green zones’ with rich wildlife – national parks, sanctuaries, conservation reserves, community reserves and tiger reserves – are given higher (and varying) protection under the wildlife law.

The new draft aims to give greater powers to the wildlife wings of central and state governments beyond the recognised wildlife zones. According to the ministry official, this will help align domestic laws with international norms. The draft also makes other changes, including saying that the prime minister-led National Board of Wildlife will now advise the government on wildlife policies instead of framing the policies. Significantly, it also removes the board’s ability to do impact assessment studies of proposed development projects inside wildlife areas.

The new draft does not do away with some of the conflicts that exist between wildlife protection regulations and the Forest Rights Act, 2006, which gives tribals certain rights over forest lands, including wildlife zones. Neither the new nor the old laws recognise these rights. Even more problematic, the draft contains the possibility of overruling of other earlier laws (such as the Forest Rights Act) which are contrary to the provisions of the new wildlife law.

While the draft talks about relocating people from tiger reserves in accordance with the Forest Rights Act, it doesn’t explicitly mention the need for consent from tribal gram sabhas. It only talks about consultation with either gram sabhas or panchayats in scheduled areas before certain management decisions for protection of wildlife rich areas are taken.

The new law also proposes to enhance penalties for the violation of provisions, Sethi writes, though apparently relaxing the stiff regulations for villagers and cultivators living close to wildlife zones. This, the author argues, would mean controversial practices involving animals like Jalikattu in Tamil Nadu can continue.