The Supreme Court has affirmed the central government’s scheme to shield from prosecution those who make voluntary disclosure of exotic animals and birds between June and December this year.
A three-judge bench, led by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, has recently upheld an Allahabad High Court judgment in this regard.
The bench dismissed an appeal, which sought investigation and prosecution for acquisition, possession and trade of exotic wildlife species notwithstanding the government’s scheme.
The Allahabad High Court had held against any kind of inquiry or prosecution once someone comes forward and makes the disclosure under the Voluntary Disclosure Scheme, announced by the central government through the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
The top court has upheld this judgment and junked the appeal filed by one Dinesh Chandra against it.
Before the Allahabad High Court, the central government had opposed Chandra’s petition, emphasising several such amnesty schemes with immunity from prosecution have been announced in the past too. The government maintained it would defeat the entire purpose of the scheme if the declarants were to face investigations and prosecutions.
Concurring, the Allahabad High Court had noted the government had come out with the amnesty scheme in the direction to regulate possession and trade of exotic species, which had been kept out of the ambit of the Wildlife Protection Act so far.
It said the ‘voluntary disclosure scheme” was introduced in wider public interest and announced immunity for a limited window of six months to promote and invite voluntary disclosure declaration.
“During this limited interregnum of six months, any inquiry or action against procession, breeding or transportation of exotic species within India by officers of any government agency or department, whether of Central or State, would be wholly illegal, arbitrary, unreasonable, unsustainable and would defeat the purpose of the voluntary disclosure scheme,” ruled the bench.
Similarly, Rajasthan High Court had in a separate case also held that anyone seeking to avail this scheme by making voluntary declaration of such exotic live species in his domestic possession and subjecting himself to future regulatory requirements, shall be entitled to the immunity promised under the scheme. It added that declarant should not act on the basis of any apprehension, such as seizure, summon, confiscation, enquiry in relation to such declared exotic species in domestic possession neither under Customs Act, 1962 nor any other law.
In a more recent judgment this month, the Delhi High Court also held that once a voluntary disclosure is made under the scheme within the stipulated six months, no inquiry or action can be initiated against the person for possession, breeding or transportation of the exotic species within India by the officers of any government agency or department.
With the appeal against one such judgment dismissed by the Supreme Court, a much required clarity has come, allaying the apprehensions against making declarations regarding exotic wildlife species.
The voluntary disclosure scheme aims at streamlining the process for import and possession of exotic live species in India by way of registration and creating a database at state and centre level.
According to the government’s notification, the scheme would also enable it to introduce a further regulatory as well as penal regime after giving the window of six months for voluntary disclosure.
But the scheme could not take off owing to lack of assurance as to whether those making such disclosure could be subjected to any investigation and prosecution by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) and the officers of Wildlife Crime Control Bureau.
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