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An Analytical Study of Paradigms of Forestry and Wildlife Crimes vis-a-vis Indian Criminal Justice Sys-tem with a Special Reference to the Role of NGOs

Paper Details 

Paper Code: AIJACLAV3RP112023

Category: Research Paper

Date of Submission for First Review: March 9, 2023

Date of Publication: December 29, 2023

Citation:  Souradipta Bandyopadhyay, “An Analytical Study of Paradigms of Forestry and Wildlife Crimes vis-a-vis Indian Criminal Justice System with a Special Reference to the Role of NGOs", 3, AIJACLA, 96, 96-103 (2023), <>

Author Details: Souradipta Bandyopadhyay, Research Scholar, University of North Bengal


The environment that includes forests and wildlife is also termed a national treasure of any country, in which India also has participated. The Indian culture is among few worldwide that worship nature, including trees and animals. Since ancient times harming wildlife has been considered a sin in India However, despite all the endeavours, these precious natural possessions have become a soft target of criminals and poachers worldwide due to their immense profit. The Indian constitution contains provisions for conserving and protecting the environment. The legislation in India has enacted many legislation to curb illegal activities in forest areas. Not only that, but the Indian judicial system also has played a significant role in protecting nature, including forests and wildlife. Despite all the efforts, it has been alleged that the criminal justice system is becoming toothless against such atrocities. Also, the role of the courts is not up to the mark for shielding the forest and wildlife of the nation. In the light of these scenarios, this paper will attempt to highlight the current situation prevailing in the light of Indian Perspective. Along with that this paper will also attempt to show the loopholes that are present in the protection of forests and wildlife. The author will also try to show the role of NGOs under these contemporary perspectives.


Forestry Crimes; Non-Governmental Organizations; Organized Crimes; Wildlife


Forests and wildlife have been integral to Indian culture since ancient times. The forest areas have provided shelter to the wildlife and have been a source of fodder, wood, timber, fruits and other products for human beings. Before the arrival of the invaders, the aboriginals of India had decreed specific laws all over the continent that made certain trees sacred and destroying nature was prohibited to a certain extent. Most modern or current legislations relating to forests or wildlife were introduced in the British regime. For instant, the first environment-related law, the Indian Forest Act, 1878, was introduced by the British with an ulterior motive to control and regulate the access to forest areas by the commoners. The British colonial regime also started systematic plunder of India's natural wealth. It has been seen that bounties were set for the wild animals that seemed dangerous, such as tigers, leopards, snakes, etc. Also, hunting wildlife was regarded as a widespread sport by the British, which also had been adhered to by most Indian royalties.[1] The post-independent India holds a practical approach towards the environment, forests and wildlife, yet the exploitation has rarely been stopped.

India, a land endowed with natural resources, is assumed to be a haven for wildlife and biodiversity. There are millions of known and unknown species which reside in the forest areas of this nation. The rare beauty of the foliage has attracted tourists from all over the world to India every year. However, this same treasure has been louring the poachers and hunters as the wildlife of this country has been a soft target of these. Illegal hunting has made many species extinct forever, and more are on the verge of extinction. This illegal activity has become a head ace for the national security of this country.

The problem of forestry and wildlife crime not only damaging the eco system but also impacting the bio diversity of the region. This has resulted into affecting the livelihood of the rural and forest dwellers. Majority of the wildlife crime in India includes poaching of Rhinos, Tigers, Star tortoise, exotic timbers, Rose Wood[2] etc which will be later discussed in this research article. Not only has this issue but there been a disappointment among the forest staff. The hunters and poachers have threatened their lives. The frontline workers have not been provided the army jayan or police constable status, yet they are expected to work twenty hours without any shift.[3] It has been alleged that India is one of the deadliest countries for forest rangers. In 2017, 29 deaths of on duty rangers were counted[4] . While protecting the forest areas or other natural resources, poachers and the front-line workers are also targeted by illegal timber mafias, encroachers, and smugglers. The Indian Judiciary and the courts of India have always offered a pro-environment gesture. From time to time, the Supreme court has frequently stepped forward and supplied detailed guidelines to safeguard the environment. However, the query is whether the Judiciary's role is adequate to protect the forest and wildlife of this country when the courts are burdened with pending cases. This assertion is due to the growing number of forestry and wildlife-related offences every year. These have posed a significant challenge for the criminal justice system of India.

Illuminating the Term Environment

The notion of the environment is as ancient as mother nature. The term denotes within itself the conditions upon which all biotic and abiotic components live and sustain life on this planet. The word environment has derived from the term environment which means “to surround”. It is a complex word that has been described by various jurists, writers, and legislatures. The Supreme Court in the famous case of T.N. GodavarmanThrumulpad. V. Union of India[5]  has enumerated thus the environment is a difficult word to describe that normally can be related to surroundings, although it is a subject which is related to which objects it is surrounded with. In the words of P.N. Bhagwati

“…………the term refers to the conditions within and around an organism, which affect the behaviour, growth, and development, or life processes, directly or indirectly. It includes the conditions with which the organism interacts……...”[6]

Various national legislation also has attempted to define the term environment. All the statutory definitions are all-inclusive in nature and the interpretations of the same depend on the facts and circumstances of the cases. The Environment Protection Act,1990 of United Kingdom defines the environment as media that consists of air, water, and land. The medium of air includes the air within the building structures below or above the ground.[7]  The Indian statutes have defined an environment that includes water, air, land, human being, other living creatures, plants, micro-organisms, and property and the interrelation between them. [8] So it can be seen that the above definition not only includes animate but also includes inanimate objects as well. Thus, it can be stated that it has a broad spectrum consisting of a healthy and hygienic atmosphere.[9]

Ancient Indian Culture and Mother Nature

Since ancient times, the Indian society has followed the motto of living in harmony with nature. Of all the sages, Rishis, Saints, who had lived, and meditated in the forest, have enunciated the value of nature in Dharma Shastras. The Santana Hindu religion glorified respect for the environment and concord with nature. All the ancient pieces of literature of this civilization peach a worshipful attitude not only towards tress, forests, and plants but also to Sky (sky), Water (Jal), air (Vayu), and creatures as well.[10] The norms related to protecting the environment can be found in Artha shastra, written by Kautilya. It was considered as Dharma of individual to preserve Mother Nature.[11] People used to worship Mother Nature from that time, and all the living creatures had an important position. The teachings of Vedas, Upanishads, and Smritis indicate the consciousness among people regarding protecting the environment and ecology. [12]The children were also taught by their parents the necessity of protecting the earth and keeping the environment clean.[13] In the Rig-Veda under Aranyani Hymn, it was explicitly mentioned to protect the forests. Again in the 9th hymn of the tenth Mandal of Rigveda, the rishis prayed to plants and forests and asked to defend them. [14]Another sage, Yajnabalka, has prescribed stringent sanctions against those who destroy trees without reason. The great Indian sage Manu also mentioned the destruction of trees as inequality and prescribed atonement for the destroyer.[15]

The Menace of Forestry and Wildlife Crimes

The world has been affected by forestry and wildlife crimes for many decades. However, at present there is a dynamic shift has happened in the characteristics and scale of such illegal activity. These crimes have significantly threatened natural resources, the economy, cultural heritage, and national security. These illicit activities can eradicate natural resources on which the country's economy depends. It also undermines the efforts relating to conservation and sustainable economic development for rural communities. The increasing involvement of transnational and organized crime clusters has also changed the fundamental patterns required to address forestry and wildlife crimes. This is a very complex and challenging task that law enforcement agencies and authorities face throughout the globe. Forestry and wildlife crime is a growing problem that poses a significant environmental threat. These activities comprise the fourth most extensive illegal trade globally after drugs, arms and human trafficking. In addition, this is also lined with other criminal offenses such as money laundering, fraud, and corruption. The United Nations General Assembly, Economic and Social Council, and Security Council have recently shown concern for the plunder of environmental plunder and degradation of national heritage.[16]

The trans-border organized criminal belts are transferring illegally harvested wild and poached animals through various smuggling techniques that include current well-developed routes and existing infrastructures which are utilized for trafficking weapons, drugs, and counterfeit goods. [17]The activities of these criminals impact the livelihoods of the local population and the food security of an area. Corruption is one of the main driving forces behind such criminal offences. If this goes on without proper address, many rare and exotic flora and fauna species will soon be gone and become extinct.

·         The paradigm of forestry and wildlife crimes

These classifications of offences incorporate a diverse nature of activities overlapping and interrelated from possessing, importing, supplying, receiving, poaching or consuming wild flora and fauna. Such actions also involve illegal and fraudulent practices and other associated offences. To tackle the menace efficiently, it is necessary to identify and categorize all possible offences and identify them to enforce appropriate sanctions. Exploring the associated elements of crimes with forestry and wildlife offences also helps identify the loopholes and the access points for the law enforcement agencies and other government interventions. It is also necessary to pinpoint and specify the supply chains and the driving force behind such activities. Table 1 below will provide an idea relating to categories of forestry and wildlife offences and their interrelation.

Table 1.

Wildlife Crimes

Forestry Crimes

Associated Offences

  • Illegal Hunting

  • Poaching

  • Use of Prohibited Hunting Method

  • Illegal Export

  • Illegal Possession

  • Violation of Seasonal restrictions

  • Illegal Animal Material Procession

  • Illegal logging of Tim-ber

  • Illegal Processing of Material

  • Illegal Transit and ex-port

  • Destruction of Forest

  • Illegal Harvesting

  • Money laundering

  • Corruption

  • Forgery

  • Tax evasion

  • Anti-Social Activities

Source; Wildlife and Forest Crime Analytic Toolkit. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

One of the main hardships in the investigation is that the offence relating to forestry and wildlife has not been clearly defined in many countries. The government policies have left a vague state in identifying such offences. To maximize the short-term revenue, many undesirable and unsustainable practices are still conserved legal.[1] The criminalization factor of such offences is driven mainly by economics, politics, and other environmental factors. Thus, it has remained beyond the scrutiny of the criminal justice system.

The Current Indian Scenario

The framers of the Indian constitution also had put provisions for the protection of the environment and wildlife with a view that it is the duty of both the Union and the Citizens of India.[2] However, as time flew, the forest areas became a crime zone. India is blessed with a forest cover of rich biodiversity. Almost every part of the forest from different regions contains a spectacular feature along with rare species. Thus, this continent became a prime target of criminals around the world. The wildlife crime has attracted attention just few years back by countries and after that there has been noticeable change in the public consciousness as well. The States around the world have joined hands with each other to stop such transnational activities. This has also become one of the main political agendas of the nations. India also has become part of many international conventions to protect and preserve flora and fauna. However, in India wildlife crime has not been stopped completely. Like other organized crimes, this is too a well-organized crime funded either inside of the country or outside. There have been many illegal international markets where the articles of wild animals are being sold for a huge amount of money. China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand these countries has a huge demand for wildlife articles.

The forest areas of India thus have been a prime target of these smugglers who uses the route through the neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan to smuggle articles along with the wild animals mainly to reach China. Having said that, wildlife trade in India includes snake skins, Rhino horns, Leopard Claws, bones, Whiskers, Shahloosh, Turtle Shells, Bear bile, Musk pods, medicinal plants, Paraketts, Timbers, and Munias.[3] In the case of Tilak Bahadur Rai v. State of Arunachal Pradesh[4] the court has given detailed guideline relating to killing of wild animal. Despite stringent laws due to the poor execution and pathetic communication, positive efforts to protect the forest undermined India. The lack of political will and policy failure are also significant. Thus, the penalties for the infringement are also weak in India. In the case of State of Bihar v. Murad Ali Khan,[5] the Supreme Court has highlighted the issue of preservation of flora and fauna of this country.

i. Position of Forest and Wildlife under Indian Constitution

The historic 42nd Amendment Act, 1976, after taking reference from the Stockholm conference, incorporated two essential articles in the Indian Constitution. Article 48-A has given direction to the state to protect and safeguard the environment, including the forest and wildlife of the country. The Supreme Court also has provided vast recommendations relating to the state's responsibility to protect the country's natural resources through the case of Intellectual Forum v. State of A.P.[6] Another article, Article 51-A(g), again casts a duty upon the country's citizens to protect the environment and other living creatures. Thus, the Indian Constitution gives responsibility to the States and their citizens to protect and safeguard their natural resources. The democratic component of the country that has been mentioned in the preamble of the constitution mandates participation in the government's decision-making.[7] So from these articles, it can be seen that under the constitution, both the State and citizens are obligated to protect the forests and wildlife and empathize with the living creatures. Also, from the List III of the Seventh Schedule, both the State and centre can make laws on the following issues, i.e., Forests, Protection of wild animals and birds, and prevention of cruelty to animals.[8]

ii. National Legislations to protect Forests and Wildlife

India has few of the most stringent laws to preserve and protect forests and wild animals. The main objective behind the preservation of forests is to ensure the safety of natural habitats and the unique biodiversity of the forest areas. Forest and wildlife conservation has become a significant concern for the country. Due to the growing human interventions in forest lands, wildlife is facing various categories of perils. The major legislations which are safeguarding the forests and wildlife of this country are as follows,

1.       The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972

2.       The Indian Forest Act .1927

3.       The Forest Conservation Act, 1980

4.       The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986

5.       The Biological Diversity Act,2002

6.       National Wildlife Action Plan

7.       National Forest Policy ,1998

8.       The Indian Penal Code,1860


iii. Challenges and Loopholes

The National and State agencies for the protection of Flora and Fauna face many obstacles, including the complex nature of these criminal activities. The poor governance, lack of equipment, toothless legislation, lack of forensic science support, immature risk management practices, and lack of awareness among the public prosecutors in the judiciary are ultimately affecting the conservation process. Again, poorly targeted law enforcement also burdens forest tribal and rural communities, ultimately weakening the support for law enforcement. In the case of Sansar Chand v. State of Rajasthan,[9] the apex court has shown grave concern for the safety of wildlife in this country in light of continuing illegal hunting happenings.

The execution part of legislation and the massive backlog of cases in the Indian judicial system also influence such atrocities. The national reports show that the officials have arrested a significant number of persons for criminal activity in the forest areas. In the year 2020, in just one year from Rajasthan (151), Uttar Pradesh (185), Maharashtra (68), Assam (54), and Himachal Pradesh (210) people were being arrested under the Wildlife Protection Act[10]. Most of India’s protected forest areas and wildlife sanctuaries are situated under these states; thus, this is a warning sign for this nation.

The Role of Non-Governmental Organisations

The eminent role of non-governmental organizations in the sector of operational enforcement and advocacy has certainly elicited their prominence in transparent functioning and accountability. Many NGOs are categorized as special interest groups and exclusively committed to a specific purpose in society. In the contemporary world, these organizations also play a role to influence the public at large. It has been observed that the specific objectives pursued by the NGOs are not specifically legitimized by any consensus neither it may reflect in any existing piece of legislation. Thus, often NGOs are found more devoted to specific issues rather than any specific legal framework. In addition, to that the functionalities of NGOs are governed by a different set of legal regulations from those government establishments such as the Police Unit or Forest management, which directly influences their behaviour and how they are pursuing their objectives.

 In the contemporary era, NGOs can play a significant role to prevent and regulate forestry and wildlife criminal activities. These associations can serve as a monitoring body of government entities, provide valuable information and reports to the public, and in special circumstances such as in unethical or illegal behaviours can even play the role of prosecutors. The complicated nature of green crimes such as illegal hunting, poaching, trafficking, etc requires advanced skills and expertise to detect and apprehend such activities.[11] The government environmental bodies often suffer from various kinds of limitations such as lack of manpower, low infrastructure, and insufficient budget. Thus, under these circumstances, NGOs play a prominent role as a pioneer to combat environmental offences.

The environmental nongovernmental organisations of this country are playing an essential role in filling up the gaps by conducting services, and research works, building institutional capacity, and helping people live a sustainable lifestyle. These NGOs have a worldwide network by interacting with government bodies and international institutions. The main works done by these NGOs are such as creating awareness campaigns on the importance of the environment and forests, being involved in the protection of rights of wildlife, monitoring and aiding in man-animal conflict issues, organizing consortiums, seminars for promoting ecological awareness, Monitoring the biodiversity of the forest areas and criminal incidents. Some of the prominent NGOs presently in India working relentlessly to protect the forests and wildlife of the nation are provided below in the table.2.

Table 2.



1.       World Wildlife Fund-India

Preservation, Conservation, Raising Awareness About Endangered Flora and Fauna

2.       Wildlife SOS

Protection of Endangered Wildlife

3.       Wildlife Protection society of India

Man Animal Conflict Issues and Other Forestry Crisis Management

4.       Nature Conservation Foundation

Wildlife Related Research and Conservation

5.       Wildlife Trust of India

Conserve Wildlife And Preservation of Habitats

6.       Wildlife Protection Society of India

Combat Poaching, Illegal Hunting and Wildlife Article Trafficking

7.       Wildlife and Forest Conservation Trust of India

Wildlife and Forest Conservation, Sustainable Use of Forest Resources, Conservation Of Biodiversity

8.       Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce (TRAFFIC)

Monitor Illegal Wildlife Activities In Forest, Prevent Wildlife Trade, Transnational Poaching, Illegal Timber Trade

Source: Internet and official websites of the above-mentioned NGOs


To conclude it can be stated that, forestry and wildlife crimes are not yet considered as serious crimes like other heinous crimes like murder, rape, grievous hurt, etc. The stigma attaches to the later crimes is far less severe in the case of any forest-related crimes. This mind-set itself has made the criminals desperate. The lack of stringency in punishment and the easy way to getting bail from such crime has shown the weakness of the legislation. The public prosecutor and the magistrate who is dealing with the case often are not aware of the severity of the impact upon the environment due to such activities. It should be kept in the mind like any other traditional crime, environmental crimes are different.

The traditional crimes are against the masses somehow however the later crimes are against not only the society but also the ecosystem of the area and have a far-reaching consequence. Yet the punishments for both the crimes are more or less similar in the country. Last but not the least, it should be kept in mind that our ancestors used to worship nature and for thousands of years this practice has been going on in India. This is the only country where flora and fauna are both worshiped as a deity all out of respect and pure devotion. One of the reasons is that from ancient times our ancestors knew the importance of nature. Now each citizen of India must uphold and propagate this tradition not only to combat all the menaces relating to the environment and to safeguard it but also for the betterment of the motherland as well.


[1] Prerna Singh Bindra, The Vanishing: India’s wildlife crisis.(1st ed,Penguin Vikings, 2017) 6.

[2] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “India: Our endangered wildlife - a cause for concern”. <https://ww ngered-wildlife-a-cause-for-concern.html#:~:text=Major%20wildlife%20crime%20in%20India,claws%20ar e%20used%20in%20jewellery.> Accessed 12.07.2022.

[3] Valmik Thapar. Saving wild India : A Blueprint for Change. (1st ed, Aleph Book company,2015) 14.

[4] Prerna Singh Bindra. “Why India is The World’s Deadliest country for Forest Rangers” (India Spend. 26 May,2018) <>. Accessed 12.07.2022.

[5] (2002) 10 SCC 606.

[6] S.C. Sastri. Environmental Law. (4th ed,2015, Eastern Book Company) 136.

[7] See s.1(2) of the Environment Protection Act, 1990.

[8] See s.2(a) of the Environment (protection) Act,1986.

[9] Virendra Gaur v. State of Haryana. (1995) 2 SCC 577.

[10] S.C.Sastri.Environmental Law.( 4th edition,2015, Eastern Law Company) 4.

[11] Dr.Paramjit SA. Jaswal  and Others,. Environmental Law. (.4th ed, 2015 Alahabad Law Agency) 4.

[12] Id.

[13] Fomento Resorts and Hotels Ltd. v. Minguel Martins, (2009) 3 SCC 57.

[14] Ashim Roy, Alpana Roy, ‘Environmental Conservatiin Ancient India’ (2017). International Journal of Sanskrit Research. 3 (4) 139 ,145.

[15] Ibid.

[16] United Nations, ‘A Global Collaboration to Fight Wildlife and Forest Crime’. <> Accessed 15.07.2022.

[17] United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime ‘Corruption and wildlife and forest crime’ < https://www .unodc. org/unodc/en/corruption/ ml> Accessed 15.07.2022.

[1] Cf. Duncan Brack and Others, ‘Controlling the international trade’( 1st ed,1999, Routledge) 134.

[2] See Article 48-A and 51 A(g) of The Constitution of India, 1950.  

[3]World Wildlife Fund, India, ‘illegal wildlife trade in India’ <> Accessed 15.07 2022.

[4] 1979 Cr.L.J. 1404.

[5] AIR 1989 SC 1.

[6] (2006) 3 SCC 549.

[7] See the Preamble of The Constitution of India, 1950.

[8] See Entry 17, 17-A,17-B of The Constitution of India, 1950.

[9] (2010) 10 SCC 604.

[10] See the Report of Crimes in India, 2020. Vol 2. National Crime Records Bureau.Ministry of Home Affairs.

[11] Jen Irish Alan. The New Climate Activism : NGO authority and Participation in Climate Change Governnance (1st edition, 2020 University of Toronto Press) 55.

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