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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 70
May 31 , 2008

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Law Opinion

Revision of Wildlife Act - a timely initiative

Enayetullah Khan

The world is becoming increasingly an uncertain place with the huge number of humans and their demands for limited resources. The situation is even worse in the developing countries. The world population in 1990 was estimated to be 5.29 billion, 78 percent of which is occurring in less developed countries, effectively all countries excluding Europe, North America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The significant increases anticipated in total world population in the coming decades are largely uncontended and two sophisticated analyses arrive at similar 'middle' scenarios: by 2025 world population will stand at 8.5-9.0 billion people (UN figures, quoted by WRI, UNEP, UNDP 1990).

One prediction says that the world's population is likely to double in the next 45 years, even if fertility rates fall in virtually every developing country. If the demographers' consensus comes true, we are more than half-way towards a level population of between 8 and 12 billion people.

Increasing human population means an inevitable expansion in human demands on the depleting resources of the planet. Moreover, per capita demand for biotic resources has also increased, so that the increase in direct exploitation has been exponential rather than linear. It is said that the human species now uses some 40 percent of the net primary productivity of terrestrial system, much of it as a result of food production. Between 1950 and 1984, per capita grain production increased by 40 percent. Between 1950 and 1990, per capita supply of beef and mutton increased by 26 percent. In addition, world fish catches underwent a 4.6-fold increase between 1950 and 1989, increasing consumption of fish. World consumption of wood also increased 2.5-fold between 1950 and 1991, per capita consumption increasing by a third during 1994.

Some indicators suggest that ecosystem and resource limits are already being reached. World fish harvests peaked at 100 million tones in 1989 and by 1993 had declined 7 percent from 1989 levels. Growth in grain production has slowed since 1984, with per capita output falling 11 percent by 1993. World economic growth has slowed from over 3 percent annually in the decade 1950-60 to just over 1 percent from 1990 to 1993. The Worldwatch Institute, extrapolating from historical data, forecasts that 'if current trends in resource use continue and if world population grows as projected, by 2010 per capita availability of rangeland will drop by 22 percent and the fish catch by 10 percent. The per capita area of irrigated land, which now yields about a third of the global food harvest, will drop by 12 percent. And cropland area and forestland per person will shrink by 21 percent and 30 percent respectively.

This clearly indicates that in Bangladesh we need to use natural resources more cautiously and prudently. One prediction says that Bangladesh population will be 280 million by 2050. The present land area will not increase even an inch by that time. The present forest cover is now about 6 percent. The present nonrenewable resources like gas will be exhausted in another decade. Against this backdrop sustainable use of our biodiversity has become inevitable for sustainable development. I am glad to note that the Forest Department, the custodian of most of our important renewable resources, has taken initiatives to revise Bangladesh Wild Life (Preservation) Order, 1973 (Order of the President No. 23 of 1973), which was enacted in 1974 as Bangladesh Wild Life (Preservation) (Amendment) Act, 1974. During this enactment the Bengal Rhinoceros Preservation Act, 1932, the Wild Birds and Animals Protection Act, 1912, and the Elephant Preservation Act, 1879, were repealed.

Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh (WTB) is helping the Forest Department in the revision process of this Act. WTB together with USAID supported Nishorgo Support Project of the Forest Department and BELA organised a day long workshop on April 30, 2008, at the Forest Department premises.

More than 150 environmental experts and managers attended the day-long session to give their opinions and comments on the new draft amended version of the Wildlife Act 2008. Most of them opined that instead of revision/amendment let there be a new Act. This time the definition of the Wildlife is also getting changed. In 1974 Act the definition of wildlife is nonexistent. However, the definition of "wild animal" was given as "any vertebrate creature, other than human beings and animals of usually domesticated species or fish and the eggs of birds and reptiles". This means it includes only amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. In the proposed revision the definition of wildlife has been proposed as "wild forms and varieties of flora and fauna, in all developmental stages, including those which are in captivity or are being bred or propagated or cultivated and shall specifically include wild animals mentioned in Schedule I and II and also specified plants as mentioned in Schedule IV but shall not include vermin as specified in Schedule III, but also includes insects, crustacean, fish and eggs". This means all plants and animals in wilderness, which are in wild state.

After an inaugural session with Chief Guest Barrister Raja Devashish Roy, Special Assistant to the Chief Adviser, and a WTB adviser, participants registered their concerns, comments and complaints about the draft Act amendment.

This proposed amendment has been prepared to update the original 1974 Act taking into account important changes in the area of wildlife management and biodiversity conservation. Important modifications and improvements cover such issues as updated CITES species lists, clarification of authorities for seizing wildlife, particularly during transport, inclusion of formal collaborative management approaches, and inclusion of community conserved areas. The Act amendment also clarifies more than 55 definitions that were not previously included.

The session formed part of a broader public consultation process being led by the Forest Department. The draft Act is being made available at the Forest Department's Nishorgo Programme website (www.nishorgo.org) for comment and will be presented to smaller groups of targeted stakeholders later this month. A compilation of public feedback and comments will be organized and made available in a couple of months. We hope that this Act will be made effective.

Such attempt by the Forest Department is indeed laudable as we need to save our biodiversity. Unless we have an effective Act in hand this has been an increasingly difficult job to protect our wildlife.

Bangladesh has become an example worldwide in a book published by UNEP titled Global Biodiversity Assessment (1995). The book reads: An example of unforeseen consequences is the experience of Bangladesh which, between 1977 and 1989, exported frogs for the growing Western (particularly American) market. By 1988 export had reached 50 million tons per year, earning US $ 10.5 million in foreign exchange. However, the fact that frogs, by eating waterborne paddy field pests, perform an essential function, were not reflected in the market and were therefore overlooked. By 1989 when the government introduced a ban on exports, the frog population was estimated to have fallen to 400 million and, to compensate, farmers were importing US$ 30 million worth of the worst quality pesticides, annually.

That the net damage to watercourses and health as a result of pesticide use is unestimated. The export of frogs from Bangladesh is an example of a decision without historical precedent. Let us not allow anybody to repeat this history and let us save our biodiversity for us and for our future generations.

The writer is the Chairman, Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh.


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