From: Nita Bhalia, Reuters
Published June 19, 2006 12:00 AM

India to Give Army Powers to Protect Wildlife

NEW DEHLI — India plans to enlist the army to help protect its threatened tiger population and other animals, giving soldiers the power to arrest or even shoot poachers, wildlife officials said on Monday.

The smuggling and sale of Indian tiger and leopard skins is common across India's border with China and poaching of endangered animals is widespread throughout the country.

While the country's 1.1 million-strong army -- the world's second largest army after China -- is deployed in many environmentally fragile border hotspots, troops currently have no powers to act against wildlife crimes.

Officials from the National Board for Wildlife told Reuters the government was planning to amend existing legislation to give the army powers to act in border areas where smuggling and poaching is common.

"The amendments to the Wildlife Act will mean that the army will be able to arrest, detain and even open fire on poachers who evade arrest," Kalpana Palkiwala from the National Board for Wildlife said.

"This will give them parity with chief wildlife wardens," she added, speaking after a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Conservationists say that India, which has half the world's surviving tigers, is losing the battle to save the big cats.

A century ago, there were about 40,000 tigers in India. But decades of poaching have cut their number to 3,700, officials say. Conservationists say the population could be under 2,000.

The government says the amendments, which will come before parliament in the coming monsoon session, will also provide for the creation of a national agency charged with registering and investigating cases.

"We have decided to have a central investigating agency in the name of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau," A. Raja, environment minister, told reporters.

"This will be a multi-disciplinary body, which will have officials from police, customs, forestry and army," he said.

(Additional reporting by Nigam Prusty)

Source: Reuters

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