Experts express dismay over state of affairs, ask how policy-level issues being dealt with
India's National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) hasn't met in six years. Policy decisions and clearances have, meanwhile, come from a standing committee, to the dismay of experts.
On April 7, 2020, Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar tweeted about giving wildlife clearances to projects in 11 states.
“I chaired the meeting of the Standing Committee of NBWL today through VC (Video Conference) and approved wildlife clearance for a number of developmental project proposals submitted by 11 states,” the minister tweeted.
The projects were cleared by the Standing Committee of the NBWL.
“Under the provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 (WLPA), the NBWL can constitute a Standing Committee, but the board has to meet at least twice a year. But the board hasn’t met even once since 2014,” Ritwick Dutta, environment lawyer, said.
The NBWL is chaired by the Prime Minister according to the WLPA. The NBWL has 47 members including the chairperson. Among these, 19 members are ex-officio members. Every new government constitutes a new board, based on the provisions of the WLPA, with the new PM as the chair.
The Standing Committee’s function is to regulate land diversion within Protected Areas and Eco Sensitive Zones, making it a purely project clearance body. The NBWL, on the other hand, has the power to deal with policy-level decisions on wildlife.
“When I was part of the board between 2007 and 2013, there used to be a monthly meeting with the prime minister and our policy-level decisions were at least discussed there. If the board isn’t meeting now, I don’t know how the policy level proposals are being dealt with,” Biswajit Mohanty, an Odisha-based wildlife activist, said.
This concern was also shared by MK Ranjitsinh, a wildlife activist who was involved with the framing of the WLPA.
“If the statutory policy level body ie the NBWL hasn’t met even once, then who is taking care of the policy level issues?” he asked.
“Even during the last government, the situation was similar where the policy proposals weren’t given much importance, but at least the board met,” he added.
While the NBWL had not met, policy level decisions were being taken by the Standing Committee, a Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) official said on the condition of anonymity.
“Decisions like the one on linear project guidelines was taken by the Standing Committee. The members of the committee are drawn from the board and therefore, there isn’t much difference between the two,” the MoEF&CC official said.
While the members of the Standing Committee are also part of the NBWL, the committee is a much smaller body in terms of membership.
“Wildlife conservation is a multi-disciplinary effort. The NBWL has members drawn from diverse fields,” Prerna Singh Bindra, a wildlife conservationist who was a member of the NBWL between 2010 and 2013, said.
“But what is of utmost importance is to fulfil its mandate of conservation of wildlife, which seems to be missing at the moment, a clear indicator that this important institution has been diluted, and subverted,” she said.
While it was understandable that the NBWL could not meet every month as the PM was busy, there had to be at least one meeting in a year so that policy level issues could be discussed at the highest level, one of the present members of the NBWL said, on the condition of anonymity.
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