The article "Wildlife Trafficking In India" by Snehil Sharma is in depth study about the causes of illegal wildlife trade, the relevant provisions to combat the same and case laws related to this issue.

The article "Wildlife Trafficking In India" by Snehil Sharma is in depth study about the causes of illegal wildlife trade, the relevant provisions to combat the same and case laws related to this issue. The incessant demand of products such as ivory, leather and red sandalwood drives the practices of illegal wildlife trading in India. India is a major hub not merely for trafficking wildlife illegally but for being a popular destination of trafficked wildlife worldwide. It is imperative to note the massive harmful impacts of wildlife trading on the biodiversity, health, economy and even governance of a country.

Being a transnational crime that is organized for the fulfillment of illegal purposes, it disrupts the functioning of the ecosystem and jeopardizes flora and fauna. There have been several steps taken by India in a bid to restrict wildlife trading, and some of them encompass legislations such as the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972; the Biological Diversity Act, 2022 and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. However, there are still practices of illegal trading of animals which is somehow a manifestation of the inefficiency of these legislative acts or their implementation.

Introduction

The existence and sustenance of wildlife has been threatened widely throughout the world due to the emergence of illegal wildlife trafficking as an 'Organized Transnational Crime'. In the context of India, the majorly trafficked products include leopard skin, claws, skin, and bones; snake skins, rhino horns shantoosh shawl, turtle shells and medicinal plants.

As per the data provided by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, a total of 1,256 wildlife trafficking cases, including poaching of several endangered animals, was reported during 2017, 2018, and 2019 which led to an arrest of about 2,313 offenders, who were involved in these crimes.[1] In a startling discovery in March 2022, a total of 1,700 birds were rescued by the Delhi Police from the clutches of illegal traders located in Kabutar Market, Jama Masjid in Delhi.[2] Trafficking of exotic animals has also surfaced in the past few years, showcasing how lacunae in the present legal framework dealing with wildlife trafficking in India currently and why it is important to put more stringent laws in place for punishments for offenses related to this matter.

Legal and illegal domains of Wildlife trade

The term "wildlife trade" refers to the sale of goods made from non-domesticated animals or plants that are often taken from their natural habitats or raised under regulated conditions. It may involve the exchange of living or deceased animals or their tissues like skin, bones, or flesh, as well as other goods. The wildlife trade can be further sub-divided into two domains, i.e., legal and illegal.

Legal trade

Legal trade refers to the wildlife trade, which is done keeping the focal point towards conserving and repopulating species of plants and animals. The recent comeback of cheetahs in India from Namibia can be the best example of legal trade. This practice is very prominent in national parks and zoos, and they keep trading animals based upon their availability.

Illegal Trade

Illegal trade refers to the wildlife trade, which is done for the sole motive of profit extraction and personal gain. In the illegal wildlife trade, wild animals are either harmed or killed in order to trade their skin or other body parts. This eventually causes adverse effect on the natural wildlife setting.

Cause of illegal Wildlife trade

The reasons that lead to wildlife trafficking increasing at an exponential rate cover certain aspects such as the lack of sufficient stringent laws for prohibiting the practice or the inefficiency of the laws already present, taking charge of controlling the overpopulation of a particular animal species, greed for money, among many other objectives.[3] The idea is to satisfy personal wants and, thereby, surpass any and all moral and legal obligations that come amidst the said illegal goals. Let us look at few of the major causes of illegal wildlife trade.

Lacunae in Legal Framework

The disproportion in punishments for the horrendous crimes of wildlife trafficking is a major cause of increase in such practices. The offenders quite easily get away with their crimes by paying fines since the penalty is not very harsh. It is true that there are several laws present that guarantee, on paper, protection of wildlife but however, they are seldom able to enforce the safeguards as projected.[4]

The new conception of 'Harvesting'

Recently, a new understanding of justifications has surfaced whereby the offenders often try to save themselves from being prosecuted for their illegal wildlife trading by stating that they were only 'harvesting' the said animals, meaning to say, they were merely reducing or controlling the overpopulation of that animal species by killing it.

Hefty money involved

There are indeed huge amounts of money involved in illegal wildlife trading, which is one of the most important reasons that the offenders choose to infringe the legal provisions and make profit out of illegal activities. Black marketing of illegally obtained animal products fetched very huge amounts of money since there are no legal checks and balances on the same.[5]

Legislative Provisions to protect the wildlife

Post-independence, various legislative initiatives were introduced to safeguard and conserve the wildlife ecosystem. The Environment Protection Act of the year 1972 was one such initiative whose purpose was to prevent and punish any sort of animal and bird hunting. Various protected areas were formed after the introduction of this act, and due emphasis was given to the regulation and control of trade relating to products which are obtained from wildlife. The states derive the power through this act to declare any specific region as a national park or sanctuary which it believes to be appropriate. The state is also allowed to frame further legislation with a view to protecting flora and fauna and punishing those who are indulged in illegal practices relating to wildlife.

Apart from the Act, the Constitution of India, through its article, also prescribes appropriate measures for safeguarding wildlife. Article 48-A of the Indian Constitution mandates that the state shall protect the nation's forests and wildlife as well as the environment. Additionally, the Constitution gives the state authority to create a framework for wildlife protection through directive principles. Every Indian citizen has a fundamental duty to protect and improve the environment and to have compassion for all living species in accordance with Article 51A (g) of the Indian Constitution.

Case Laws against Wildlife Trafficking

The Indian judiciary has, from time and again have passed many judgments emphasizing the protection of wildlife and the environment:

In the case of Naveen Raheja v. Union of India[6], a wildlife enthusiast named Naveen Raheja filed a PIL in accordance with the Indian Constitution, citing the vulnerability of the caged tigers kept at the zoo in Bhubaneswar. The Supreme Court held that it comes within the purview of the duties of the zoo authorities to provide appropriate protection to the tiger.

In Tarun Bharat Singh Alwar v. Union of India[7], the Apex Court directed the appointment of a committee which was headed by a retired judge in order to ensure that there should be protection of the environment and wildlife within the protected area as prescribed within Section 3 of the Environment Protection Act, 1986. The petitioner in this instance was a social action organisation dedicated to the preservation and protection of wildlife.[8] Due to certain statutory notifications issued by the government in the "Sariska Tiger park "region, which was designated as a sanctuary under Section-55 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the organization who were against the state government's actions filed public interest litigation. The petitioners claimed that some mining operations were being carried out in the region under the guise of license issued by state government, which was harming the ecosystem and having an impact on species in the park.

Wild Life v. Ashok Kumar & Ors[9], is another case relating to wildlife protection where the accused was indulged in trading of leopard skin and was found guilty in accordance to Section 51 of the Act.

On the basis of the aforementioned, one may draw the conclusion that both executive branch and judicial branch in India view wildlife protection as a crucial concern.

Role performed by UNEP to address illegal trade

UNEP has emerged as a crucial player in addressing the illegal trade of wildlife globally. In accordance with national and international legislation, UNEP supports the ethical and sustainable management of wildlife and commerce in wildlife. The goal of UNEP is to inspire, enlighten, and enable nations and individuals to enhance their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. Its aim is to promote collaboration in environmental protection which also includes prevention of illegal trade.[10]

To tackle the illegal wildlife trade both domestically and internationally, UNEP is working with other UN agencies and secretariats. It seeks to strengthen national legislation and help the nations to come together in handling transboundary issues relating to illegal trafficking. In their efforts to reduce wildlife crime and strengthen the rule of law, judges, law enforcement, and customs agencies are supported by UNEP.

Suggestions

After gathering significant knowledge regarding the scenario of wildlife trafficking in India, the following suggestions can be brought into light:

  • The enforcement of the legal framework in India shall be given more emphasis, and a specific mechanism shall be introduced to keep a check on the implementation of laws relating to wildlife protection.
  • The role of NGOs should be increased as they can play a vital role in checking the ground reality of wildlife protection and highlighting the loopholes in the system.
  • Cooperation between investigation agencies shall be promoted as it will further aid in gathering intelligence, identifying wildlife trafficking syndicates, and make timely arrests of those involved in such practices.

Conclusion

The preservation of environment is a global concern, not just a problem exclusive to one region or country. As a result of society's extensive interactions with nature in the modern era, environmental problems have grown in significance, which has a negative impact such as depletion of traditional natural resources, deterioration of multitude of animal and plant life species and disruption of the natural ecosystem. Though India has made tremendous efforts towards conserving the wildlife ecosystem, there is still a long way to go to actually achieve what has been aspired to achieve in papers. More initiatives are required to actually minimize the wildlife degradation and conserve the wildlife ecosystem for upcoming generations.

References

[1] Lakhan Gupta, Wildlife trafficking and poaching in India: Law and judicial perspective, Available Here

[2] Illegal Wildlife Trade in India, Available Here

[3] India's engagement with United Nations Environment Programme, Available Here

[4] Causes and drivers of Wildlife Trade, Available Here

[5] Illegal wildlife trade: Investigations, Available Here

[6] 2000 (6) SCALE 574, (2001) 9 SCC 762

[7] 1993 SCR (3) 21, 1993 SCC Supl. (3) 115

[8] Harmanpreet Kaur, The Supreme Court of India and its role in protecting fauna in India, Available Here

[9] CC No. 301845/2016

[10] Vanya Verma, Causes and prevention of illegal wildlife trafficking in India, Available Here

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Snehil Sharma

Snehil Sharma

Snehil Sharma is an advocate with an LL.M specializing in Business Law. He is a legal research aficionado and is actively indulged in legal content creation. His forte is researching on contemporary legal issues.

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