Wildlife, environment protection in India dates back to Kautilya, Ashoka’s time

Wildlife conservation, particularly protection of elephants, in India dates back to fourth century BC during the time of Kautilya and Chandragupta Maurya, and there were severe penalty for those found guilty of cruelty to animals, US-based environmental attorney and author Bruce Rich said here on Wednesday.

During Ashoka’s time, the focus was on a clean environment, and burning of farm chaff after harvest was banned, he said “India has a rich history and tradition of wildlife conservation. While Chandragupta Maurya was a great patron of conservation, his minister Kautilya had not only authored detailed procedures of wildlife conservation, but had also prescribed severe penalty provisions for those found guilty of cruelty to animals,” Rich said at the two-day Eastern Himalayan Naturenomics Forum convention organised here by the Balipara Foundation.

While Kautilya focused on elephants as the Mauryan empire had a large elephant cavalry, his Arthashastra clearly defined a set of basic rules for protection and conservation of wild animals, Rich said “Chandragupta’s successor Ashoka had not only introduced forest protection laws, but also ordered that all kinds of animals should be protected from being slaughtered. One of his several edicts had also said four-footed animals had to be absolutely protected,” Rich, best-known for his book Mortgaging the Earth, said.

Referring to contents of inscriptions on pillars and rocks of Ashoka’s reign, Rich said: “Ashoka had strictly banned burning chaff after harvest. One must remember how much importance Ashoka had attached to environment back in the third century BC,” he said, pointing out how chaff burning in rural areas adjoining Delhi has contributed to thick smog in the national capital region in the last few days.

He added, “The first veterinary hospitals in the world were probably set up by Ashoka. Fa Hien, the Chinese traveller who came to India during his reign had written about veterinary hospitals in Pataliputra”.

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