Rare animals are being sold via ecommerce marketplaces and online classifieds portals, including prominent players such as Amazon, eBay, Quikr, Olx, Alibaba, YouTube, Snapdeal, Petsmart, Rediff Shopping and others, India’s Environment Minister Anil Dave informed the Rajya Sabha yesterday. While we haven’t independently verified the veracity of these claims, the list of 106 websites (below) “seen advertising sale of rare animals and their parts” was collated by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau.
In an email, Ebay India has said that their website guidelines prevent the sale of endangered animals:
“We possess zero tolerance for wrongdoing and we also have firm policies to control the sale of endangered animals and their body parts. We have appended the guidelines for sellers on our site: http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/wildlife.html#policy which will help guide our users. If any listing violation is found going forward, we shall remove the listing and ban the seller from the place”, eBay adds.
The minister, in his response to the Rajya Sabha said (doc) that they are monitoring ecommerce websites and sharing details of the suspects with law enforcement agencies:
i. Services of Cyber Crime Specialist on Contractual basis is being utilized to carry out regular cyber patrolling to detect any posts and offers over such trade portals on the World Wide Web;
ii. On detection of such offers, details are retrieved of the suspect and the information is passed on to relevant enforcement agencies for legal action;
iii. A meeting of representatives from online trade portals was convened on 19th May 2016 to discuss issues pertaining to online wildlife trade and sensitize them on illegal wildlife trade and to discuss modalities to assist Wildlife Crime Control Bureau in case of such detection;
iv. During training and sensitization programme conducted by the Bureau, the issue of illegal online wildlife trade is being highlighted so that the officials involved in enforcement are abreast of such trends and take necessary action.
Note that the as per the WCCB’s ITC(HS) code, Section 1, live animals that are restricted from trading and these include pure bred horses, mules and hinnies, bulls, cows, sheep, goat, turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, hares, reptiles including turtles and snakes, parakeets, ostriches, parrots, cockatoos, macaws, etc.
The Ministry is taking the right approach here: sensitizing the online platforms about the trading of rare animals instead of directly holding them accountable for a merchant on their platform. Given that the role of the platform is that of a ecommerce marketplace, and it is impossible for them to keep track of each and every seller and each product from each seller on their marketplace, the use of these platforms to detect sellers is the correct approach. Section 79 of the IT Act affords the platforms a safe harbor, as mere intermediaries, although they have to act upon being notified about such sellers. This safe harbor is critical for the operation of the Internet, and it goes back to how Avnish Bajaj was held responsible, when a seller put up a pornographic clip for sale on ecommerce marketplace Baazee.com (now ebay.in).
At the same time, as we have mentioned earlier, there is a need for platforms to also create alerts and flags, for preventing such listings from going up in the first place: these will need to be automated, because manual intervention suggests actual knowledge of the act, and thus liability for the platform.
List of sites (including many ecommerce marketplaces)
With inputs from Sowmya Sankaran