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Thursday, January 21, 2021

Declare exotic pets, avoid prosecution: how one-time scheme works

The government has come out with an advisory on a one-time voluntary disclosure scheme that allows owners of exotic live species that have been acquired illegally, or without documents, to declare their stock to the government. Here's how it works

Written by Khushboo Narayan | Mumbai | Updated: December 13, 2020 8:45:12 am
A civet rescued in Delhi. Civets are sought after as exotic pets. (Express Archive)

On November 22, the Supreme Court upheld an Allahabad High Court order granting immunity from investigation and prosecution if one declared illegal acquisition or possession of exotic wildlife species between June and December. This was under a new amnesty scheme announced by the Centre. The High Court had said that whoever declares the stock of exotic species and submits to registration under the amnesty scheme, “shall have immunity from any inquiry into the source of licit acquisition or possession of the voluntarily declared stock of exotic species”.

What is the government’s voluntary disclosure scheme?

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has come out with an advisory on a one-time voluntary disclosure scheme that allows owners of exotic live species that have been acquired illegally, or without documents, to declare their stock to the government between June and December 2020. With this scheme, the government aims to address the challenge of zoonotic diseases, develop an inventory of exotic live species for better compliance under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and regulate their import. In its current form, however, the amnesty scheme is just an advisory, not a law.

What kind of exotic wildlife are covered?

The advisory has defined exotic live species as animals named under the Appendices I, II and III of the CITES. It does not include species from the Schedules of the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972. So, a plain reading of the advisory excludes exotic birds from the amnesty scheme.

CITES is an international agreement between governments to ensure that international trade in wild animals, birds and plants does not endanger them. India is a member. Appendices I, II and III of CITES list 5,950 species as protected against over-exploitation through international trade. Many of these animals, such as iguanas, lemurs, civets, albino monkeys, coral snakes, tortoises, are popular as exotic pets in India. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

What is the process for disclosure under the scheme?

The disclosure has to be done online through MoEFCC’s Parivesh portal. The owner of the animal(s) will have to declare the stock as on January 1, 2020 to the Chief Wildlife Warden (CWLW) of the concerned state or Union Territory. This will be followed by a physical verification of the animals. The CWLW will have to issue an online certificate of possession of exotic live species within six months of the date of the voluntary disclosure. After the registration, it is mandatory for the owner to allow the CWLW with free access to the exotic species declared on any day for verification.

Apart from this, the CWLW has to be informed about any new acquisition, death or change in possession of the animals within 30 days. The scheme has also specified guidelines for surrender of such animals to a recognised zoo. The owner will also have to provide the details of the species acquired, their numbers, and the address of the facility where they are housed.

How big a problem is illegal trade of exotic animals in India?

The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), which enforces anti-smuggling laws, says India has emerged as a big demand centre for exotic birds and animals with an increase in smuggling of endangered species from different parts of the world. Most of this exotic wildlife is imported through Illegal channels and then sold in the domestic market as pets.

“The long international border and air routes are used to source consignments from Bangkok, Malaysia and other top tourist destinations in South East Asia, as well as from Europe from where they are sent to Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Cochin,” said the DRI in its 2019-2020 annual report. In the last one year, the DRI has seized black-and-white ruffed lemur endemic to Madagascar, the endangered hoolock gibbon and palm civet, albino monkeys, crocodiles, pygmy falcons, kookaburras, scarlet macaws, aracaris among several others, the annual report said.

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