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Wild Life Protection

August 16, 2021

By Y.SRINIVASA RAO, Principal Assistant Sessions Judge, Tirupathi, Andhra Pradesh.


  1. Introduction
  2. Project Tiger
  3. M.C. Mehta’s case
  4. National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016)
  5. Conclusion

Introduction :-

Prior to Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, there was a legislation passed in 1912 during the British Rule in India. The said legislation was entitled as ‘Wild Birds and Animals (Protection) Act, 1912’. This Act was also aimed to prevent killing of wild birds and animals. It was felt that this Act became outdated and the provisions made therein were not adequate to provide sufficient protection to wild birds and animals. In this background, the 1972 Act was enacted by the Parliament. As early as in 1952, the National Forest Policy of India emphasised the need for affording protection to the wild-life and particularly to the rarer species. It recommended the setting up of sanctuaries and national parks and the enactment of special laws. The Indian Board for Wild Life constituted by the Government of India in the same year, has also opined that adequate legislation should be enacted by the Central Government and the States, and that there should be a uniform set of rules and regulations in contiguous States for the effective protection of wild-life. In World Wild Fund for Nature India Vs. Union of India And Others, (1994) 54 DLT 286 (DB) it was observed that the Parliamentary debate clearly demonstrates that representatives from all over the country have profusely welcomed the enactment of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 in one voice, but this is one of the legislations which miserably failed as far as its proper implementation is concerned. Despite the existence of penal provisions for violating Wildlife Act, poaching goes on at a very large scale.

Project Tiger:- The Government of India in 1972, launched ‘Project Tiger’ for the protection and growth in population of tiger and for which special reserve areas had been earmarked. Unfortunately, the tiger which is the most protected endangered species of wild animals has not been spared by poachers who for the sole purpose of trade have been frequently killing tigers in substantial numbers. The trade and business in tiger skins and bones are increasingly becoming lucrative. There is tremendous demand of tiger skin and bones in China, Taiwan, European countries and in the United States of America. 

As was held in World Wild Fund’s case (supra), the population of tigers has increased considerably from 1972 to 1979. Similarly, when figures of 1979 are compared with the figures of 1984, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court finds there is reasonable increase in the population of tigers but when the figures of 1984 are compared with 1989, the conclusion is irresistible that there is only a marginal increase in their population. The recent census giving total tiger population shows that tiger population has fallen from 4,330 in 1989 to 3,750 in 1993.

In , it was observed as under:

” We deem it appropriate to refer to an important article published in the Issue of March 28, 1994 of ‘Time’ magazine with the title ‘Tigers on once considered a conservation success story’, they are again sliding towards extinction. It is indicated in that article that this time the world’s nations may not be able to save the great cats.

 42. In the article, it is also mentioned that “Asia’s giant cats are a vanishing breed, disappearing faster than any other large mammal with the possible exception of the rhinoceros. No more than 5,000 to 7,500 of the majestic carnivorous remain on the planet—a population decline of roughly 95% in this century. Unless something dramatic is done to reverse the trend, tigers will be seen only in captivity, prowling in zoos or performing in circuses. The wild tigers of old will be gone forever, their glory surviving merely in storybooks, on film—and in dreams.

43. It is further mentioned that India, with an estimated 60% of the world’s tigers, perhaps as many as 3,750, is determined to protect them. But the country’s ambitious system of 21 reserves has proved increasingly susceptible to human predators. Over the past five years, the parks’ tiger populations have dropped 35% on average. In one notorious killing spree between 1989 and 1992, Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan lost 18 tigers to poachers, even though 60 guards were patrolling the forest.

44. Now more than ever the tiger’s mystique is its ticket to the boneyard. If Asian cultures no longer revere the tiger as a god, many still believe that the animal is the source of healing power. Shamans and practitioners of traditional medicine, especially the Chinese, value almost every part of the cat. The relevant portion of the article is reproduced as under.

“They believe that tiger-bone potions cure rheumatism and enhance longevity. Whiskers are thought to contain portent poisons or provide strength; pills made from the eyes purportedly clam convulsions. Affluent Taiwanese with flagging libidos pay as much as $US 320 for a bowl of tiger penis soup, thinking the soup will make them like tigers which can copulate several times in an hour when females are in heat.

45. Tiger skins are sold at exorbitant price in the international market. A beautiful tiger skin may bring its seller as much as $15,000, but the bones and other body parts generate even more money, and they are much easier to smuggle and peddle. As incomes rise in Asia, people can afford to pay tens or hundreds of dollars for a dose of tiger-based medicine. And as the destruction of tigers decreases supply, the price of their parts rises further, creating ever greater incentives for poachers to kill the remaining animals.”

The Supreme Court in the case of State of Bihar v. Murad Ali Khan, (1988) 4 SCC 655, observed in para 10:

“Environmentalists’ conception of the ecological balance in nature is based on the fundamental concept that nature is “a serious of complex biotic communities of which a man is an interdependent part”, and that it should not be given to a part to trespass and diminish the whole. The largest single factor in the depletion of the wealth of animal life in nature has been the “civilized man” operating directly through excessive commercial hunting or more disastrously, indirectly through invading or destroying natural habitts.”

The Supreme Court in M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, (1987) 4 SCC 463, had ruled that the Court may issue appropriate directions if it finds that public nuisance or other wrongful acts affecting or likely to affect the public is being committed and the statutory authorities who are charged with the duties to prevent it, are not taking adequate steps to rectify the grievance.

M.C. Mehta’s case :-

Reference is made to Supreme Court Judgment in M.C. Mehta’s case— (1988) 1 SCC 471. In para 23 of the said judgment, the Court directed the Central Government that all educational institutions in India should teach at least for one hour in a week, lessons relating to environment, wild-life, etc. The Central Government and the State Governments are directed to issue necessary instructions to the concerned authorities to comply with the Supreme Court’s directions without any further loss of time.

Article 21 of the Constitution of India protects not only the human rights but also casts an obligation on human beings to protect and preserve a specie becoming extinct, conservation and protection of environment is an inseparable part of right to life. In M.C. Mehta vs Kamal Nath and Others (1997) 1 SCC 388, this Court enunciated the doctrine of “public trust”, the thrust of that theory is that certain common properties such as rivers, seashores, forests and the air are held by the Government in trusteeship for the free and unimpeded use of the general public. The resources like air, sea, waters and the forests have such a great importance to the people as a whole, that it would be totally unjustified to make them a subject of private ownership. The State, as a custodian of the natural resources, has a duty to maintain them not merely for the benefit of the public, but for the best interest of flora and fauna, wildlife and so on. The doctrine of ‘public trust’ has to be addressed in that perspective.

National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016) :-

In Centre For Envir. Law, Wwf-I vs U O I & Ors, (2013) 8 SCC 234, it was oberved as under: The Prime Minister of India on 1.1.2002, in the XXI Meeting of the Indian Board for Wildlife, released the ‘National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016)’ (in short NWAP 2002-2016). NWAP has highlighted that the wildlife encompasses all uncultivated flora and undomesticated fauna and every species has the right to live and every threatened species must be protected to prevent its extinction. It was noticed with the mounting agricultural, industrial and demographic pressures, wilderness areas, which are the richest repositories of wildlife and biodiversity have either shrunk or disappeared and their continued existence is crucial for the long term survival of the biodiversity and the ecosystems supporting them. NWAP, inter alia, highlighted the necessity to protect the long term ecological security of India and to identify and protect natural ecosystems from over-exploitation, contamination and degradation. NWAP has also urged the necessity to give primacy to in situ conservation which is a sheet anchor of wildlife conservation. Ex situ measures in zoological parks and gene banks may supplement this objective, without depleting scarce wild resources. NWAP also highlighted the ecological requirements for the survival of threatened, rare and endangered species together with their community associations of flora and fauna. It also highlighted the imperative necessity to have alternative homes for highly endangered species like the Great Indian Bustard, Bengal Florican, Asiatic Lion, Wild Buffalo, Dugong, the Manipur Brow Antlered Deer and the like. It was also noticed that where in situ conservation efforts are unlikely to succeed, ex situ captive breeding and rehabilitation measures may be necessary, in tandem with the preparation of their wild habitats to receive back captive populations, especially in respect of lesser-known species where status and distribution of wild animals are not fully known. NWAP also highlighted the necessity of taking the following actions:

1. To identify all endangered species of flora and fauna, study their needs and survey their environs and habitats to establish the current level of security and the nature of threats. Conduct periodic reviews of flora and fauna species status, and correlate the same with the IUCN Red Data List every three years.

2. Invest special care and resources to protect habitats that harbour highly endangered species especially those having single population and a high degree of endemism.

3. Initiate action to prevent the “genetic swamping” of wild species.

4. To undertake a programme of ex situ captive breeding and rehabilitation in the wild for critically endangered species in accordance with IUCN guidelines, after developing requisite techniques and capabilities in this regard.

5. To publish flora and fauna species status papers periodically, which should be translated into local languages.

6. To declare identified areas around Protected Areas and corridors as ecologically fragile under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, wherever necessary.

NWAP also highlighted the priority projects and to initiate a time-bound plan to identify and conduct status surveys of all endangered species covering all groups of rare and threatened species of flora and fauna and to provide protection to the environs and habitats of all rare and threatened species of flora and fauna under the priority projects. 2.2 of Para 3 of NWAP read as follows:

“2.2 Identify suitable alternative homes for single isolated populations of species such as Jerdon’s Courser, Asiatic Lion, Manipur Deer, Wroughton’s Free Tailed Bat and the like, and manage the same as Protected Areas effectively.”

NWAP also states that the same is the responsibility of MoEF, State Governments, Scientific Institutions and NGOs. The necessity to take immediate steps for preventing the entry of domestic and feral species that may lead to genetic swamping, has also been highlighted. The importance to safeguard genetically pure populations from future genetic contamination and where genetic swamping has occurred, to phase out such swamping, was also highlighted. NWAP, in chapter IV, has highlighted the necessity to the restoration and management of degraded habitats outside the protected areas.

The Apex Court observed that  India has a network of 99 national parks, 515 wildlife sanctuaries, 43 conservation reserves and 4 community reserves in different bio- geographic zones. Many important habitats, still exists outside those areas, which requires special attention from the point of view of conservation. The Centrally Sponsored Scheme also specifically refers to the recovery programmes for saving critically endangered species and habitats. Due to variety of reasons, several species and their habitats have become critically endangered. Snow leopard, Great Indian Bustard, Kashmir Stag, Gangetic Dolphin, Nilgiri Tahr, Malabar Civet, marine turtles, etc are few examples. See. Centre For Envir. Law, Wwf-I vs U O I & Ors.

 The scope of the Centrally Sponsored scheme was examined in T. N. Godavarman Thirumalpad vs Union Of India & Ors., (2012) 3 SCC 277 (Wilde Buffalo case) and the Supreme Court directed implementation of that scheme in the State of Chhattisgarh. The centrally sponsored scheme, as already indicated, specifically refers to the Asiatic lions as a critically endangered species and highlighted the necessity for a recovery programme to ensure the long term conservation of lions. NWAP 2002-2016 and the Centrally Sponsored Scheme 2009 relating to integrated development of wildlife habitats are schemes which have statutory status and as held in Lafarge case (supra) and have to be implemented in their letter and spirit. While giving effect to the various provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act, the Centrally Sponsored Scheme 2009, the NWAP 2002-2016 our approach should be eco-centric and not anthropocentric.


Conclusion:- The policy and object of the wild life laws have a long history and are the result of an increasing awareness of the compelling need to restore the serious ecological imbalance introduced by the degradations inflicted on nature by man. The State of which the ecological imbalances and the consequent environmental damage have reached is so alarming that unless immediate, determined and effective steps were taken, the damage might become irreversible. The preservation of fauna and flora, some species of which are necessary for the survival of humanity and these laws reflect a last ditch battle for the restoration, in part at least, a grave situation emerging from a long history of callous insensitiveness to the enormity of the risks to mankind that go with the deterioration of environment.

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