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Amnesty scheme to protect the influential?

Karnataka Forest Minister Eshwar Khandre has proposed a one-time voluntary disclosure and amnesty scheme under which those illegally owning wildlife articles can surrender them without facing penal action. Though on the face of it, the scheme would benefit many innocent people, especially in villages abutting forests or tribes who are in possession of such articles, there is every chance the provision could be misused to provide an escape window to professional poachers and other wilful defaulters. According to the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, an animal article means an article made from any specified captive or wild animal, other than vermin, and includes any object in which the whole or any part of such an animal is used. The timing of the announcement has raised eyebrows because it comes against the backdrop of several influential people, including actors, politicians and religious heads, being accused of illegally possessing tiger claws, animal pelts and other banned articles. The issue of animal articles came into focus after a ‘Reality TV’ show participant, Varthur Santosh, was arrested and sent to custody on charges of owning a pendant made of tiger claws. While the mighty arm of law came down heavily on Santosh, other influential people placed in similar circumstances are being treated with kid gloves. Curiously, many individuals who until the other day proudly flaunted these articles are now claiming that they are not real but made of synthetic material.

Every person in possession of specified animals or animal articles was required to declare them before the Chief Wildlife Warden under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. While Section 40(2) of the Act prohibits receiving or possessing such animals or articles without a certificate after the deadline to declare them, there is also a provision to grant immunity in certain cases where declaration was not made. Such amnesty schemes were announced in 1972, 1973, and 2002. Many individuals who have inherited objects, including stuffed animals, have not registered them, nor have they obtained the relevant certificate, mainly due to ignorance of the law. Similarly, many in rural areas possess antlers which are naturally shed by deer periodically. The amnesty scheme will help in such cases and protect them from being needlessly harassed by the forest department.

While it is heartening that the forest department has finally woken on the issue, the government should ensure that poachers or celebrities who have illegally obtained animal articles are not spared. The amnesty scheme should only protect those who have come into possession of animal articles innocently and not certain influential people who have knowingly committed an illegality in obtaining or possessing animal articles.

(Published 27 October 2023, 19:23 IST)

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