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Law and Tiger

Law and Tiger

 

In just II weeks of 09 tiger count down by 17...

Three tiger cubs dead
in a week...

Pilibhit tiger shot by Hydecabad Nawab

Panna may be down
to just one tiger

 

Glaring headlines, horrifying visuals on televison channels, shocking census data. One does not have to be a wildlife expert to realise that tigers in India are a seriously threatened species. Vibhav Mithal, a student of law at the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata, is a concerned citizen with some questions. Does India have laws to safeguard wildlife? If yes, are these being properly enforced? He sets out to investigate...

 

The Law

The Wildlife Protection Act was passed in 1972 in order to protect the tiger and other wildlife species. According to the Act, “the government can by notification declare its intentions to constitute any area as a sanctuary (Section 18) or a national park (Section 35).” This notification can happen only after the rights of the original inhabitants have been settled. The Act also differentiates between use of forest produce for commercial purposes and for meeting the daily needs of people residing inside or on the periphery of the sanctuary. But this is prohibited in a
national park.

 

Law failed

Why was the option of “meeting daily needs” given only to people living in sanctuaries and not in national parks? Also, “bona fide” needs of these people and what they include was not clearly defined. Settlement of rights of forest dwellers was neglected because it was not mandatory before the amendment in 1991, and when it did become mandatory, no action was taken. Officials disregarded the rights of the locals, considered them illegal users of their own land and hence, violated the Act themselves.

Harassed, exploited and driven out of their lands, the locals who knew the forest well began assisting poachers in getting rid of the animal they held responsible for their displacement – the tiger. The only way left to save the tiger and other wildlife was to provide the locals with rights over their land and a secure livelihood. A simple, friendly compromise between humans and wildlife.

 

The other side

Wildlife conservation cannot be seen in isolation, especially in the face of rising man-animal conflict. To recognise and secure the rights of the original forest inhabitants, The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act was passed in 2006. It also included
rights of non-tribal forest dwellers and empowered the gram sabha, the smallest unit in rural governance, to settle rights.

Law failed... again

Despite these legislations, the tiger population has continued to shrink. The Forest Rights Act, too, has shortcomings:

  • It narrowly defines forest dwellers as people who primarily reside in the forest and ignores the 90 per cent who live on the fringes.
  • It empowers the Panchayati Raj to settle the rights but ‘along with forest officials’. This
    immediately marginalises its authority.
  • Forest dwellers have been given rights to use and sell forest produce but this excludes essential items like fish, leaves, fuel wood and stone.
  • Implementation of the Act is open to interference from the judiciary, which means, rights granted under the Act can be withdrawn by it

The question arises – do these laws actually serve their purpose? Shouldn’t the government take responsibility
and focus on enforcing these laws properly rather than passing the buck amongst themselves? Isn’t it time for
someone to feel accountable and rectify the mistakes made? Time is slipping away. And so is the tiger.

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Law and Tiger