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In India, wild meat for consumption is reportedly sold at markets in different parts of the country. The unlicensed buying and selling of scheduled wild animals and their derivatives is prohibited under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Food and meat safety and sanitation regulations and standards exist at the Union, state, and municipal levels, but no law was found that is specifically tailored towards wet markets or wildlife markets.

I. Wild Animal Wet Markets in India

According to WCS India, the state of West Bengal has nine markets where it is believed that commercial trade in wildlife or wild meat for consumption takes place. Such markets also exist in the states of Goa, Assam, Nagaland, and Tripura.[1] West Bengal, in particular, “is a major hub, where turtle meat is a delicacy.”[2] One report indicates that wet markets in India illicitly sell turtles and “occasionally other wild meat and derivatives,” including porcupine quills, lizard oil, and manta rays, which are all protected species by law.[3]

Dr. Saket Badola, the head of TRAFFIC’s India office, states that “[t]ortoises and freshwater turtles in India are probably the most traded wildlife species in terms of their numbers in illegal trade. It is extremely worrisome to see the scale of the illegal domestic market for these species for the pet trade and for meat consumption.”[4] TRAFFIC states that at least around 111,000 individual tortoises and freshwater turtles “entered illegal wildlife trade in a 10-year period i.e. September 2009–September 2019. This equates to more than 11,000 individuals in illegal wildlife trade every year or at least 200 per week since 2009,” and that, “[c]onsidering that an unknown proportion of illegal wildlife trade presumably goes undetected, the actual numbers could be much higher.”[5]

Another report states that “[e]nforcement agencies and experts confide that the sale of turtle meat in such wet markets is rampant across the country.”[6] It further states that

[t]here has to be an immediate, urgent crackdown on such markets and on the illegal trade of wildlife. And this has to be a collective effort of forest, health, food and bio-safety authorities aided by other enforcement agencies.[7]

In late March 2020, five national animal protection organizations “asked Union [i.e., central government] health minister Harsh Vardhan to shut illegal meat markets and unlicensed wildlife and pet markets with immediate effect” and also said “the government should take “immediate action” against markets” that do not follow food safety guidelines “to prevent the emergence of novel diseases and spread of the current coronavirus disease.”[8]

II. Legal Status

Trade or commerce involving “over 1800 species of wild animals, plants and their derivatives”[9] is prohibited under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.[10] Wild animals are classified into six schedules and “only species listed in Schedule V (vermin) can be hunted without permission. All other species can be hunted only under special conditions and authorisations.”[11] Section 38 of the Act stipulates that wild animals are to be government property.[12] Section 49B prohibits unlicensed dealing in any scheduled wild captive animals or meat derived from such animals. “Dealer” is defined under the Act “in relation to any captive animal, animal article, trophy, uncured trophy, meat or specified plant, means a person, who carries on the business of buying or selling any such animal or article, and includes a person who undertakes business in any single transaction.”[13] One news report notes that the Act extends protection to “animals listed under its Schedule, which are mostly animals native to the Indian subcontinent, and doesn’t have exotic species within its purview.”[14] There are no specific provisions on wildlife markets in the Act.

III. Sanitary Status of Markets

Since India does not legally allow dealing in scheduled wildlife,[15] there are no particular laws for the regulation of wildlife markets. The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (FSS Act),[16] is the primary law at the Union level for the regulation of food products and food safety standards. Section 4 of the Act establishes the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) as an autonomous body under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. One of FSSAI’s mandates is to formulate food safety standards.

The FSS Act contains certain registration and licensing requirements for food businesses, and requirements are further specified under the Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulations, 2011.[17]  Under section 31(1) of the FSS Act, every “Food Business Operator” in the country is required to be licensed by the FSSAI. Petty Food Business Operators (FBO)[18] are only required to register under section 2.1.1 of the 2011 Regulations and are subject to “basic hygiene and safety requirements” provided in part I of schedule 4 of the Regulations. Licensed FBOs are subject to license conditions and safety, sanitary, and hygienic requirements. States and municipalities have their own rules on sanitation of fish/meat markets and slaughterhouses.[19]

In February 2020, it was reported that, in response to COVID-19, the FSSAI has been auditing meat and fish markets due to concerns about poor hygiene and sanitation conditions and will soon start giving them hygiene ratings.[20] During the pandemic crisis, the Union government issued Food Hygiene and Safety Guidelines for Food Businesses During Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic,[21] which  contains “measures, detailed in the document, [that] include maintaining high levels of personal hygiene; excluding COVID-19 infected persons from the operations; practicing social distancing; and appropriate cleaning/sanitisation of the food operations’ premises, food contact materials etc.”[22]

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Prepared by Tariq Ahmad
Foreign Law Specialist
August 2020

[1] Gargi Sharma, Global Health Implications of Wildlife Trade, WCS India (Apr. 27, 2020),

[2] Id.

[3] Prerna Singh Bindra, [Commentary] Crackdown on Wet Markets and Illegal Wildlife Trade Could Prevent the Next Pandemic, Mongabay (Mar. 25, 2020),

[4] TRAFFIC, Tortoises and Freshwater Turtle Trade in India 2009-2019 (Oct. 1, 2019),

[5] Id.

[6] Bindra, supra note 3.

[7] Id.

[8] Shut Illegal Meat Markets, Animal Rights Bodies to Govt Amid Covid-19 Pandemic, Hindustan Times (Mar. 26, 2020),

[9] Counter Wildlife Trafficking, WCS-India,

[10] The Wild Life (Protection) Act, No. 53 of 1972,

[11] Samir Sinha, Handbook on Wildlife Law Enforcement in India 117 (TRAFFIC India & WWF-India, 2010),

[12] The Wild Life (Protection) Act § 38.

[13] Id. § 49B.

[14] COVID-19: India Must Act Quickly to Open the Eyes of Its Laws to Exotic Species, The Wire (June 12, 2020),

[15] ENVIS Centre on Wildlife & Protected Areas, Schedule Species Database,

[16] The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006,

[17] Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulations, 2011,

[18] Regulation 1.2 of the Regulations defines Petty Food Business Operators (FBO) to mean any food manufacturer who:

(a) manufactures or sells any article of food himself or a petty retailer, hawker, itinerant vendor or temporary stall holder; or distributes foods including in any religious or social gathering except a caterer; or

(b) such other food businesses including small scale or cottage or such other industries relating to food business or tiny food businesses with an annual turnover not exceeding Rs 12 lakhs and/or whose

(i) production capacity of food (other than milk and milk products and meat and meat products) does not exceed 100 kg/ltr per day or Version – II (09.11.2017)

(ii) procurement or handling and collection of milk is up to 500 litres of milk per day or

(iii) slaughtering capacity is 2 large animals or 10 small animals or 50 poultry birds per day or less.

[19] Press Release, Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, Poor Hygiene in Meat Shops/Slaughter Houses (Mar. 20, 2020),

[20] FSSAI to Improve Hygiene at Fish & Meat Markets on Account of Covid-19 Outbreak, Hindustan Times (Feb. 17, 2020),

[21] FSSAI & Eat Right India, Food Hygiene and Safety Guidelines for Food Businesses During Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic (updated version June 7, 2020),

[22] Press Release, FSSAI, Food Hygiene and Safety Guidelines for Food Businesses During Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic (Apr. 15, 2020),

Last Updated: 12/31/2020