Tripura High Court Dismisses Plea to Amend Customs Act to Regulate Possession of Exotic Animals/Birds

The Tripura High Court dismissed the plea seeking to declare possession of exotic animals/birds as illegal under the Customs Act and the Wild Life (Protection) Act.


The PIL petition was filed by a law graduate in the public interest seeking the declaration that possession of all exotic animals or birds by persons (other than those who have made voluntary disclosure) is illegal.

A person in possession of exotic animals or birds can be prosecuted for violation under the Customs Act by the Department of Revenue Intelligence and under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.

Petitioner’s Submission

The petitioner argued that birds and animals can be categorised as indigenous/local or Indian animal species and exotic/foreign or non-Indian animal species. 

The petitioner urged that there is no provision or prohibition under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 qua the second category.

It was submitted by the petitioner that the respondent issued an advisory dated 11.06.2020 for dealing with the import of exotic live species into India and declaration of stock within six months of the issuance of the advisory.

The advisory was about developing an inventory of exotic live species in India through a Voluntary Disclosure Scheme to streamline CITES compliance. The procedure for the import of exotic live species; registration/declaration of progenies of imported exotic live species; and the processes outlined in this advisory will be handled online via the Parivesh Portal.

Court’s Observation

The division bench of Chief Justice Indrajit Mahanty and Justice S.G. Chattopadhyay has held that unless a person is caught smuggling exotic species across the international borders, no presumption can be drawn that a domestic keeper has illegally imported the exotic species on the ground that the person has not declared ownership of exotic species within the stipulated time, or has acquired such species after the stipulated time, for any arrest/prosecution/confiscation based on this presumption would be unreasonable and a violation of rights guaranteed under Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India.

The court noted that a large number of citizens across the country commonly own pets such as dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, etc., which may also belong to exotic species and might have been purchased or procured from those involved in captive breeding. Such pets may number in the millions and also breed.

It was observed that the court can neither direct nor expect the government to take such drastic steps in haste, without assessment of impact and without detailed study. Such statutory amendments, which may result in harsh penal action against the common man, cannot be directed or even recommended, as the petitioner requests. 

The petitioner effectively wants that even all such exotic pets in domestic possession will have to be forfeited and housed by the government and their owners shall be arrested, imprisoned, and prosecuted under the Wildlife Act and compelled to disclose the source under the Customs Act, 1962.

A bench said that it cannot order the Central Government and the Central Board of Indirect Taxes to amend the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, as well as the Notifications issued under Sections 11B, 123, and 135 of the Customs Act, 1962, against legislative will. 

The Court stated that it can neither direct seizure/confiscation contrary to existing provisions, nor can it direct a change in the classification of a bailable offence to a non-bailable offence, to enable arrest and prosecution of all the persons concerned with undeclared stock of exotic animals or exotic birds.

Case title: Smt. Adwitiya Chakrabarti v/s Union of India and Ors.

Citation: W.P.(C)(PIL) No.11/2022

Click here to read the Order/Judgment

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