Indian Customs: The Guardian of Wildlife Frontiers of India

As per the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) India is among 17 mega-biodiverse countries. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) India with only 2.4% of the world's land area, accounts for 7-8% of all recorded plant and animal species. India’s geolocation makes it highly vulnerable to transnational wildlife trafficking with many of its neighboring countries being some of the biggest wildlife illegal trade markets/transit countries. Growing demand of exotic pets in India is also fueling wildlife smuggling.
Indian Customs: The Guardian of Wildlife Frontiers of India

Indian Customs shoulders the dual responsibility of ‘Trade Facilitation’ and ‘Combating Cross-Border Smuggling of Contrabands’ simultaneously.  Through trade facilitation Indian Customs ensures that law compliant exporters and importers get highest possible level of facilitation by speedy clearance of their cargo in furtherance of ‘Ease of Doing Business’ policy of Government of India and its commitment to World Trade Organization (WTO) as a signatory of ‘Trade Facilitation Agreement’ (TFA).

Similarly, vigilant Indian Customs officers also ensure that contrabands including wildlife contrabands are not smuggled into or smuggle out of India. Indian Customs has a very vibrant Legal, Technological and Institutional Framework to fulfil this mandate.

Legal Framework:

The Customs Act, 1962: This Act contains many Sections which Customs Authorities can invoke to combat the menace of transnational wildlife trafficking. As per sub-section (2) of section 1 of the Customs Act “it extends to the whole of India [and, save as otherwise provided in this Act, it applies also to any offence or contravention thereunder committed outside India by any person.]” This provision is crucial to dismantle the cross-border supply chain of wildlife contrabands. Section 2(33) defines "prohibited goods" as “any goods the import or export of which is subject to any prohibition under this Act or any other law for the time being in force but does not include any such goods in respect of which the conditions subject to which the goods are permitted to be imported or exported have been complied with”. Wildlife species under Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 and CITES are covered by this definition. Section 2(39) defines “smuggling” as "smuggling, in relation to any goods, means any act or omission which will render such goods liable to confiscation under section 111 or section 113”. Section 104 gives Customs power to arrest wildlife smugglers. Section 105 empowers Customs to search premises of wildlife traffickers. Under Section 108, Customs authorities have the power to summon persons to give evidence and produce documents during investigation of wildlife smuggling cases. As per Section 109A and Controlled Delivery (Customs) Regulations, 2022 issued vide Notification No. 59/2022-Customs (N.T.) dated 12th July, 2022, in case of wildlife contrabands Customs can undertake “Controlled Delivery” to combat the wildlife smuggling syndicates. Under Section 110, customs authorities have the power of seizure of wildlife contrabands. Section 111(d) and Section 113(d) empower customs authorities to confiscate ‘imported wildlife contrabands’ and ‘wildlife contrabands attempted to be exported’ respectively. Section 112 & Section 114 provides for imposition of monetary penalty on wildlife traffickers for import and export of wildlife contrabands respectively. Section 115 empowers the Customs authorities for confiscation of conveyances used for smuggling of wildlife contrabands. Under Section 121, customs authorities have the power of confiscation of sale proceeds of smuggled goods. Customs authorities have power to prosecute the wildlife traffickers under Sections 132, 133 & 135 of the Customs Act. Under Sections 132 & 133 a wildlife traffickers can be imprisoned up to two years while under Section 135 he can be imprisoned up to seven years.

Special Provisions For Arrest & Prosecution Of Wildlife Smugglers: As per Para 2.3(e) of Arrest Guidelines issued vide Circular No. 28/2015-Customs dated 23/10/2015, in case of wildlife items and endangered species of flora and fauna wildlife smugglers can be arrested irrespective of the value of seized wildlife. As per Para 4.2.3 of Prosecution Guidelines issued vide Circular No. 27/2015-Customs dated 23/10/2015, in case of wildlife items and endangered species of flora and fauna wildlife smugglers can be prosecuted irrespective of the value of seized wildlife. As per Para 6 of these Guidelines, wildlife smugglers can be prosecuted immediately after issuance of Show Cause Notice. Further as per Circular No. 12/2019-Customs dated 24/05/2019, if a foreign national is involved in wildlife smuggling, he can be prosecuted even before issuance of Show Cause Notice.

Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act, 1974: This Act empowers the Customs authorities for preventive detention of a wildlife smuggler to prevent him from (i) smuggling wildlife contrabands, or (ii) abetting the smuggling of wildlife contrabands, or (iii) engaging in transporting or concealing or keeping smuggled wildlife contrabands, or (iv) dealing in, smuggled wildlife contrabands otherwise than by engaging in transporting or concealing or keeping smuggled goods, or (v) harboring persons engaged in smuggling of wildlife contrabands or in abetting the smuggling of wildlife contrabands.

Institutional Framework: Apart from regular Customs Formations, Indian Customs has set-up specialized units like Air Intelligence Unit (AIU), Special Investigation and Intelligence Branch (SIIB) and Customs (Preventive) formations to counter the menace of wildlife smuggling. Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) is the premier Anti-Smuggling Agency of Indian Customs. DRI has been at the forefront as far as prevention of smuggling of wildlife contrabands into India or out of India is concerned.

Technological Framework: Indian Customs has adopted Risk Management System to interdict risky cargo including that of wildlife contrabands. X-Ray scanners have been installed at exit points such as Foreign Post Office, International Courier Terminals, Air Cargo Complex, International Airports, Integrated Check Posts etc. to detect smuggling of wildlife contrabands. Advance Passenger Information System helps Customs authorities in identifying suspected wildlife smugglers and take appropriate enforcement action. Similarly at other Ports like Sea Ports, X-Ray Container Scanners have been deployed to detect smuggling of contrabands including wildlife contrabands. Full Body Scanners are also being installed at Airports to detect smuggling of contrabands in person including wildlife contrabands.

Indian Customs K9 Squad: Indian Customs has established Customs K9 Training Centre at Attari, Amritsar, Punjab where sniffer dogs are trained to detect wildlife contrabands also. Because of sheer volume of international pax and cargo movement, trained K9 Squad of Indian Customs will definitely be very instrumental in preventing smuggling of wildlife.

Just to give a glimpse of crucial role played by Indian Customs in countering the menace of wildlife smuggling I am sharing the link of “Smuggling In India Report 2019-20” & “Smuggling In India Report 2020-21” of Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI). Chapter 6 of “Smuggling In India Report 2019-20” and Chapter 4 of “Smuggling In India Report 2020-21” deals exclusively with wildlife smuggling. The links are as follows:

To conclude, Indian Customs is not only the “Guardian of Economic Frontiers of India” but  the “Guardian of Wildlife Frontiers of India” also. Indian Customs is protecting wildlife from being smuggled on land, sea and air frontiers 24/7.



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