An Indian wild elephant

Creating a National Wildlife Protection Authority

Proposal to establish a National Wildlife Protection Authority under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972

Problem

The conservation of wildlife in its habitat has assumed greater importance because of COVID-19. Studies indicate that 60% of Emerging Infectious Diseases (COVID-19, HIV, Ebola) affecting humans are zoonotic, with approximately 72% of them originating in wildlife. 

Territorial Forests (TFs) are crucial to wildlife conservation. They harbour nearly all of India’s 36 endemic mammals. They are important connectors with the more strongly guarded but scattered network of Protected Areas (PAs) across the country. At the same time, TFs are also one of the most human-dominated wildlife areas, prone to heightened human-wildlife conflict and poaching. 

Despite their ecological importance, TFs remain neglected under India’s patchwork of laws. The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (WPA) has limited applicability to TFs. Wildlife habitats within TFs are not strongly protected. Except for the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), which protects tiger reserves, it is unusual for agencies under the WPA to intervene in wildlife habitat protection in such areas. This is in contrast with PAs, which are specifically designated under the WPA. Any activity involving the use of PAs requires the prior recommendation of the National and State Boards of Wildlife (SBWL/NBWL). 

Further, bodies like the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) cannot exercise independent authority to curb poaching in TFs, but are reliant instead on state forest officers. Other bodies like the National Biodiversity Authority and State Biodiversity Boards under the Biodiversity Act, 2002, and the National and State Boards of Wildlife are advisory in nature and lack teeth to take measures to protect TFs.  

The standard approach to wildlife conservation in India focuses on saving particular species from extinction, using the tool of PAs. PAs now exist as forest islands in a mosaic of human settlements. Ironically, strong protection within PAs has meant that the wildlife populations in these areas have flourished so much that the carrying capacity of these areas has been exceeded, consequently forcing wildlife to move beyond their administrative boundaries. This makes the protection of habitats outside PAs even more important.

Solution

The future of wildlife conservation in India depends on how well governments are able to manage TFs. This requires a systematic and scientific approach and sufficient resources. The working plans of all TF divisions in India should compulsorily include wildlife conservation plans, efficient monitoring mechanisms and measures for mitigating human-wildlife conflicts. Such comprehensive management requires an expert body that can assume primary responsibility for the protection of wildlife habitats, and advise governments on all matters related to wildlife management and human-wildlife interaction.

The future of wildlife conservation in India depends on how well governments are able to manage TFs. This requires a systematic and scientific approach and sufficient resources.

Implementation

  • Establish a ‘National Wildlife Protection Authority’ (NWPA) under the WPA, with powers similar to the NTCA, but with wider jurisdiction for the protection of all scheduled wildlife species and their habitats, irrespective of the ownership of land. The NWPA should have at least 10 regional headquarters representing each biogeographic zone.
  • Bring all wildlife-related departments and agencies (including the NTCA, the NBWL and the WCCB) under the authority of the NWPA. 
  • Confer appellate jurisdiction on the NWPA regarding decisions taken by the National and State Boards of Wildlife.
  • Confer powers on the NWPA to approve working plans and other management activities proposed by forest divisions. The NWPA must ensure their compatibility with regional wildlife requirements, prevent ecologically unsustainable land use, frame guidelines, facilitate research, organise the training of frontline staff in the management of human-wildlife interaction and facilitate community-driven conservation efforts.

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