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Wildlife (Protection) Act Amendments Will Impede Genuine Field Research

By Prof. Nagarathinam & Marianne de Nazareth

28 August, 2013

Sitting in this plush resort called the Serai Bandipur, we were shown the shocking documentary one evening called - " The Truth about Tigers" produced and written by Shekar Dattari. If you care about our Tiger, really genuinely care, then get a copy of the free DVD from www.truthabouttigers.org. and watch it Then what goes on under the guise of Wildlife Protection can be viewed with horror and shock and we all need to decide to come forward to help control what is left of our wildlife, from going the poachers way.

Talking to a group who call themselves - Researchers for Wildlife Conservation one realises where we are headed in terms of wildlife protection. They say, " Despite the growing recognition worldwide that wildlife research and management must complement each other, Indian legislation seems to be moving in the opposite direction. The MoEF recently tabled a bill in the monsoon session of parliament that seeks to punish any non-compliance under permits issued under the Wildlife (Protection) Act with three years in prison and a Rs. 25,000 fine. This means that there is scope to send a researcher or a tourist to jail if they do not stick to the exact details of their respective permits."

"Qualified wildlife scientists must be given full and free access to the laboratories of nature where they work. Law enforcement agencies regulating such access and controlling the direction of intellectual activities, exactly like security guards being given the authority to control what research that goes in our national laboratories ", said Ullas Karanth, noted wildlife biologist and Padma Shri awardee.

Meanwhile, a poacher or a person in possession banned wildlife product is let off with a fine, what the amendments will facilitate. “The structure of penalties seems to be extremely illogical and therefore needs...immediate attention”, wrote former member of the National Board for Wildlife and Wildlife First trustee, Mr. Praveen Bhargav in a letter to Smt Jayanthi Natarajan, the Minister of State for Environment and Forests.

The group explains that "The conduct of research is already subject to checks and balances, but the new amendments to the Wildlife (Protection) Act lend scope for unjustified bureaucratic interference with research as decided by a Forest official. Usually a permit issued to a wildlife scientist to conduct research comes with certain provisos with various major prohibitions including prohibition of carrying firearms into a sanctuary to relatively minor specifications such as submitting a timely research report, and the payment of prescribed research fees."

They are worried that, "In the current monsoon session, Bill No. XXXI of 2013, any contravention of permits for scientific research will be punishable with a maximum sentence of three years' imprisonment and a maximum fine of Rs. 25,000 (Section 51A). A student could be jailed for a minor breach."

They are also concerned that further, comparing the amendments to Sections 51(A) and 51(4) which deals with punitive measures for offences under the WPA, any breach of a research permit is equated as more serious offences than trade in wildlife parts. A person trading in the gall bladder of the Himalayan black bear, globally vulnerable from poaching for body parts, need not serve jail time if a fine is paid. But as per these amendments, minor breaches of conditions in the research permit will be punished by a fine and imprisonment.

“Good wildlife research is absolutely vital for effective wildlife conservation, and it’s essential that national legislation not hinder the efforts of responsible scientists. I get nervous that legislation like that being proposed in India could have a chilling effect on science, or even be misused to impede legitimate research.”, said William F. Laurance, a Distinguished Research Professor whose paper published in prestigious Trends in Ecology and Evolution shows how research can help safeguard protected areas.

The group of Researchers for Wildlife Conservation say their voice needs to be heard and "These amendments stand to seriously impede bonafide activities such as wildlife research, conservation education, tourism, photography, film making in and around forest areas. It also re-opens a controversy about the degree of control that the government can exert over the kind of ecological and conservation research that is conducted in India, which questions the foundations of professional freedom and scientific inquiry."

We need to encourage research for wildlife conservation in India and safeguard the good work being done by our researchers, not put stumbling blocks in their way. Then indeed, we are looking for an India where our children can only see the Tiger in the zoo and not in its natural habitat, in the near future.

Professor Nagarathinam (Department of Communication, Madurai Kamaraj University, India) and Marianne de Nazareth(St. Joseph’s PG College of Media Studies and COMMITS, Bangalore, India)



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