Now enforce wildlife penalties
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s announcement that his government will bring in amendments to the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 to make it stringent and increase its penal provisions for wildlife crimes is welcome. The amendments proposed by the government will incorporate provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, as well to give more teeth to the law. Included among the changes are increasing the imprisonment terms up to seven years and raising the limits of fine up to Rs 50 lakh. At present a general offence under this Act attracts a maximum sentence of three years imprisonment or a fine which may extend to Rs 25,000 or both. These changes in the law are necessary. The penal provisions in the Act, as it exists, have not had a deterent effect,proving to be ineffective in curbing crimes against endangered species. Poaching continues to take a deadly toll of animals of protected species to such an extent that these are becoming rare and many are likely to become extinct if the menace is not curbed. The tiger is a typical example. An extremely lucrative trade in tiger parts, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine, has encouraged the killing of this animal in defiance of the law. Greedy traders on the wrong side of the law use the hunting talents and knowledge of the poachers to make immense profits. It has become extremely difficult to put an end to this illegal trade which leads to poaching. The result is that the numbers of this endangered animal is scarcely 1706 in the 39 tiger reserves across the country, which is a paltry number. Tigers are, therefore, in dire need of protection. Similar is the case with other animals, of which at least 57 are on the critically endangered species, while many others also face threats. Like the tiger, the pelts and body parts of many of these animals are prized by humans for various reasons and they continue to be hunted despite a ban. Yet simply making the penalties more severe is not enough to protect these animals. It is is important to ensure better enforcement of the law through improved policing as also to put an end to the connivance between the officials meant to protect wildlife and the poachers that lets illegal hunting go on. Only comprehensive measures will save India’s wildlife from extinction.