As Bengal gears up to ban keeping of native birds as pets, experts say devil lies in details

With the West Bengal government set to enforce a comprehensive ban on keeping all Indian species of birds as pets, experts have sounded a note of caution raising questions on the implementation of the proposed move.

State Forest Minister Jyotipriya Mallick said the process of imposing the ban has been initiated and a notification on this will be issued soon. “Indian birds, whether wild or domesticated, cannot be kept at home. They can’t be caged. The households that have birds should release them. I also have some birds at my home but I will have to release them. Strict action will be taken by the authorities concerned if anyone is found violating the orders,” Mullick said.

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Unsure of the efficacy of the proposed blanket ban, Atanu Raha, former West Bengal principal chief conservator of forests, said, “The question remains as to how strictly the proposed move is going to be followed. The effectiveness of the ban will depend on how seriously the government is going to implement it. For instance, the hill maina is kept as a pet even though it is an endangered Indian bird species. The Wildlife Act is serious about it. If a state wants to stop people from keeping crows at home, it will make a separate law. However, a  separate  state law for this will serve no purpose.”

He added, “If the proposed state Act also prohibits the same bird species from being kept as pets, there is hardly anything new about it. But action can be taken against keeping crows, shaliks or martins, and pigeons as pets or selling them under the proposed law. The focus should be on enforcement of the ban on trading indigenous birds.”

Even as the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, prohibits keeping Indian birds like parakeets, mainas, muniyas and peacocks as pets, many birds were not included in the list.

Asked about Kolkata’s Galiff Street pet market where even endangered birds are sold openly, Minister Mallick said, “No Indian birds will be allowed to be kept as pets. If such birds are sold at the Galiff Street Market, the sellers will eventually have to limit their activity to selling trees only.”

Foreign birds can be bought but for breeding purposes only but no show or exhibition involving them will be allowed, the minister said, adding that it is already illegal to use Indian birds for shows.

Sajal Ghosh, a BJP councillor who organises an international bird exhibition in Kolkata’s Santosh Mitra Square, said, “I do not yet know the details. I am sure he (Mallik) is making statements without understanding the issue. If the state government asks bird lovers to register their pets they will do it. I have already applied for the registration of my birds.”

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“If the government comes up with something like this, we will challenge it in court. I own exotic birds only. To my understanding, one cannot keep Indian birds according to the Wildlife Act,” Ghosh further said.

Mullick said a permit from the Forest Department will be required to keep even foreign birds at home. A committee will be formed to monitor whether Indian birds are being kept at homes, he said.

Abhishek Gond, a businessman and a bird lover, said, “I keep a lot of small-sized exotic birds at home since it is illegal to keep Indian birds as pets. Bringing in a new law will further confuse the matter. There is no problem if they impose tax or fee for keeping birds.” Another bird lover from Kolkata said, “I know a lot of people who keep parrots as pets but there is never any action against them. Since different birds are available in the market, we buy them. Law and Acts only create confusion.”