Friday, July 14, 2006

Let's Save the Tigers!

Although I am quite focused on making a career in International Trade Law, Tiger Conservation is an area I would always like to remain associated with.

I have visited the Bandavgarh and Kanha National Parks a legion of times in my growing up years and have seen and observed the tiger in its natural abode innumerable times. I recall being in Bandavgarh -in one of my several visits- around the time when Sita, a tigress had been poached. The discussions with various people associated with the park then, have for long remained ingrained on my memory. Such has been my association with Bandavgarh National Park that my parents- both doctors- were once contemplating about buying a house near the park. In fact, forests and wildlife have always remained subjects of my fascination. One of my uncles has recently retired as the Director of the Wildlife Institute at Deharadun, and he is another person who has inspired me to respect the forests and the wildlife.

After undergoing the Environmental Law Course in the second year of Law School, my resolve for doing something for the tigers only became stronger. I am aware that saving the tigers is indispensable for India’s water security (given the 'tiger-forest-water' link). However, I also look at the tiger as a heritage we need to preserve for the future generations. I have gone through the report of the Tiger Task Force (which was appointed by the PM last year to look into sudden disappearnce of Tigers from a National Park in Rajasthan) in parts. They seem to be more concerned about the human populations inside the parks than the tiger. Nevertheless, they do have some good suggestions for improving the enforcement agencies.

Having read Valmik Thapar’s Last Tiger -which relies on the WPSI report- in parts, I realize that it is the market for tiger skins and bones in Tibet (for skins) and China that fuels its poaching in India. As long as the source isn’t dismantled, the problem would always persist. The economic factor would always remain a driving force for the poachers. The porous Nepal border along with the ‘no visa required’ policy for movement across it, is another facilitator.

The Wildlife Protection Act even after hundred amendments can’t save the tiger as long as the market for tiger products is not dismantled. And since it exists outside our territory, the role of Public International Law gets underscored here. It is high time that bilateral consultations are entered into with China. We now have enough proof to show that activities in the Chinese territory are a source for tiger poaching in India. The ban on transboundary harm is a rule of binding customary international law.[1] This rule is embodied in Principle 21 of the Stockholm Declaration and in the new Convention on Biological Diversity according to which States have “the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States”. It makes a prima facie case for a petition to the International Court of Justice if China doesn’t co-operate as it is violating a customary rule of International Law.

I have interned under Satish Maneshinde, one the most prominent lawyers practicing at the Bombay High Court and can recall at least one case which involved the tiger and the Wildlife Protection Act. We were for the accused who got acquitted after a trial which lasted for ten years. I am convinced that we cannot expect much from the current system to save the tiger.

I have also submitted a research paper on ‘Legal Personality of Animals and the Animal Rights Discourse’ as part of my Jurisprudence-II course at the Law School and have looked into possible reasons for poor enforcement of Wildlife Protection Laws in India.

My rationale behind posting this piece is to keep me motivated right through the year for completing my paper on Tiger Consevartion. I would request my regular readers to chip in with suggestions.

[1] Catherine Tinker, Responsibility for Biological Diversity Conservation under International Law, 28 VAND. J. TRANSNAT’L L. (1995) 777, 806-09.