Environmentally conscious former PM Vajpayee no more

Two old timers recall the contributions that Vajpayee made to the field of environmental governance in India

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Thursday 16 August 2018

Former Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee died at the age of 93 at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi on Thursday.

Bureaucrats who served under him between 1999 and 2004 fondly recall a man who made his own little contribution to environmental governance in India. “He was very supportive of the wildlife conservation movement in India,” says S C Sharma, who was Additional Director General of Forests (Wildlife) during the Vajpayee years as well as Secretary of the National Board for Wild Life (NBWL).

“He used to sit throughout the duration of the meetings of the NBWL. He was a very patient listener,” reminisces Sharma.

In fact, the name “NBWL” is itself a legacy of the Vajpayee era. “Previously, it used to be known as the Indian Board for Wild Life. But subsequent to the 2002 Amendment to the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972, which came into force in January, 2003, the board was rechristened NBWL,” says Rajesh Gopal, Secretary General, Global Tiger Forum and former ADG, Project Tiger. Under the 2002 Amendment, punishment and penalty for offences under the WPA were made more stringent.

Besides these two achievements, Gopal enumerates two more. “The National Wildlife Action Plan was introduced during the Vajpayee Era. Along with it, the National Wildlife Strategy, a10-point, 1 page document, was also released by the Prime Minister’s Office. But it never had the backing of law,” says Gopal.

“The National Wildlife Action Plan is still in use today,” says Gopal.

“During that time, most National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries still lacked buffer areas that would separate them from rural or urban settlements. Vajpayee ji personally wrote to different state governments about this. With the result that today, most state governments have identified buffer areas around National Parks and Sanctuaries,” says Sharma.

Vajpayee, according to Sharma, also provide wherewithal to state forest departments. “Posts were empty; staff was not paid, especially in Northeastern states. He sorted this out.”

“He also used to say that future wars would be over water,” said Sharma.

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