Reduction in ministry's budget by almost half expected to hit forestry research the most
In the past few years, though the budget allocation for the ministry has been much less than what it demanded, it has always hovered around Rs 2,000 crore per year (except in the last interim budget of the UPA government before the elections, in which the plan outlay for the ministry was Rs 1,050 crore). The ministry, starved of funds and human resource, has hardly been able to efficiently implement its existing schemes, giving enough reasons for financial planners to consider not investing in new ones. This, despite a clear understanding that certain aspects such as forestry research, wildlife habitat protection and human-wildlife conflict need immediate attention.
In the name of Ganga
One argument for the reduction of the ministry's budget is that the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), which till last year was part of it, has now been converted into a full-fledged ministry for Ganga rejuvenation. However, this does not justify almost halving the budget for the ministry; the maximum allocation for NGRBA in last few years has been just over Rs 500 crore and several crucial departments in the ministry are starved for funds.
Take for instance, forestry research. Indian Council for Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE), which was supposed to be a premier institute for forestry research on the lines of Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR), gets grant-in-aid support from the environment ministry's plan budget. While ICAR's budget goes up to a whopping Rs 5,000 crore, ICFRE hardly gets Rs 100 crore. For the past several years it has been struggling to pay even the salaries to its staff, forget about taking up new research projects. Poor research is blamed for the low productivity and regeneration intensity of Indian forests. Further reduction in the ministry's budget is expected to hit forestry research the most. “The first casualty would be ICFRE. They would not want to cut the budget on Project Tiger or Project Elephant,” said a scientist with ICFRE on the condition of anonymity.
What happens to tiger, elephant projects?
The flagship schemes on wildlife such as Project Elephant and Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitat (IDWH) are also expected to suffer from funds cuts. Severe human-wildlife conflict are being seen across the wildlife ranges of the country. Every year more than 400 people and 100 elephants die due to human-elephant conflict alone. The environment had only one director and a meagre budget of Rs 40 crore to manage 100,000 sq km of elephant ranges in the country. The elephant task force of the ministry had recommended in 2010 that the project should get at least Rs 120 crore per year.
When this correspondent asked a senior ministry official why Project Snow Leopard, which was meant to protect Himalayan wildlife, could not take off even four years after its inception, the official responded that the budget under IDWH was not enough for the management of 600 plus protected areas in the country and there was no will in the government to invest in the project whose ranges fall mostly outside the protected areas. “The last time forest or wildlife got impetus from the budget was when the National Tiger Conservation Authority was formed. Since then, its a usual trend. The budgets have no new scheme for this sector because leaders think the ministry can't handle the schemes in hand. But they should understand that even for handling the existing schemes we need sufficient money,” said an official on the condition of anonymity.
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