To protect many animal and plant species, the Parliament of India enacted the Wildlife (Protection) Act in the year 1972.
The Wildlife (Protection) Act is applicable to the entire country with the exception of Jammu and Kashmir which has its own set of laws to protect its wildlife.
The Wildlife (Protection) Act consists of six schedules categorizing plants and animal species on the basis of the degree of protection required.
- Species listed in Schedule I and part 2 of Schedule II get absolute protection — offenses under these are prescribed the highest penalties
- Species that are listed in Schedule III and Schedule IV are also protected, but the penalties are much lower.
- Schedule V includes the animals which may be hunted.
- The plants listed in Schedule VI are prohibited from cultivation and planting.
- A pan- India protected area network including National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, Community Reserves, and Conservation Reserves in different regions have been provided under the provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.
- Wild animals have been legally protected against hunting and commercial exploitation under the Act.
- For conservation of endangered species and their habitats, special programmes like ‘Project Tiger’ and ‘Project Elephant’ have been initiated.
- The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been empowered under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 to arrest and prosecute wildlife offenders.
The Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 was amended in 1982, 1986, 1991, 1993, 2002, 2006, and 2013. The Act was followed by the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.