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Wildlife Law - A Ready Reckoner
Published by Ritwick Dutta, Dr. Rakesh Kr. Singh, Aniruddha Mookerjee, 01 Dec 2004
As India's swelling population exerts myriad pressures on its shrinking natural heritage, the character of forest management and government is rapidly changing. It is therefore important that the guardians of the wild are better equipped to deal with the changing realities. This Ready Reckoner is a part of the series of manuals being brought out by the Wildlife Trust of India's Van Rakshak Programme to enhance the skills of the forest staff, and others concerned with enforcement.
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The need to protect India’s natural heritage motivated the Parliament to enact the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (WPA) which is a pioneering piece of legislation with many facets. While, for example, it is a criminal law that provides ways to deal with offences related to wildlife, it is also a land-acquisition law, instituted to facilitate the creation of protected areas. At the same time, WPA is also a natural resources management law controlling
land and resource usage patterns in the Protected areas which relates, in turn, to the conservation and protection of endangered species.

The uniqueness of WPA lies in the many procedural norms it has laid down to deal with matters related to the management of wildlife. However, in spite of its many self-contained provisions, the Act is not a comprehensive code in itself. For instance, basic procedures such as arrest, search, detention, etc., depend on the policing system and provisions of the Criminal Code of Procedure 1973 (CrPC). Similarly, even where the management of the protected areas is concerned, respective state forest laws and regulations at the local level are in force. Thus, the meaning of ‘Forest Officer’ and ‘Reserved Forests’ is based on how they are defined in the Indian Forest Act, 1927 or any other state law. The question as to whether WPA is a special Act and is exempted from the operation of the CrPC has been dealt with in the case of Moti Lal vs CBI1. What emerges from it was that despite its many rigorous provisions, WPA is not a special law and, hence, the provisions of CrPC cannot be excluded from it.

The present manual has been prepared keeping this legal reality in mind. The provisions of WPA, together with CrPC and the Indian Evidence Act, have been incorporated so that the reader has a complete idea of the steps involved in dealing with wildlife offences. Existing literature on wildlife laws tends to concentrate only on the text  of WPA, 1972 and makes no, or only minor, reference to the provisions of other relevant laws. Detailed provisions relating to arrest, search, collection and recording of evidence have been provided in this manual along with guidelines on rights of the arrested or detained person. Since WPA does not provide for the procedure, the relevant provisions of CrPC are relied upon for easy reference by field-level enforcement staff. Case laws have been cited to illustrate the exact application of the provisions of law. Also, since this is not a commentary of the complete Wildlife Act, it is pertinent that the reader also refers to the original text of WPA, 1972.

It is important to mention that the present work is not the complete WPA. It is intended only to serve the immediate needs of the enforcement staff in dealing with wildlife offences. Therefore the provisions relating to creation of protected areas, settlement of rights etc., have not been covered.

There have been important changes after the passing of the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act, 2002. The object of the WPA has been amended to incorporate the environmental and ecological security of the country. It is to be kept in mind that the WPA is to be read in totality and no section must be read in isolation. It would be of interest to mention here the observations of the Supreme Court with respect to the scope of the recent amendments:

“The provisions of the said Act (WPA) must be construed having regard to
the purport and object it seeks to achieve. Not only inter alia wild animal is
to be protected but all other steps which are necessary therefore so as to
ensure ecological and environmental security of the country must be
enforced. The interpretation provisions as regard ‘wild animal’ employs the
word ‘includes’ and thus, must be assigned a broad meaning. The Amending
Acts must be viewed in that perspective. Protection and conservation of
wild animal is essential for very existence of human life. A trade in wild
animal which is sought to be prohibited with an object to oversee survival
of human beings must be given its full effect.”

The WPA unlike many other statutes has not been subjected to much judicial interpretation. Lack of clarity still exists about the interpretation of many of its provisions. It has been our sincere effort to contribute towards a greater understanding, as well as better implementation of this unique piece of legislation.
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