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Centre rejigs wildlife panel after SC flak




Mail Today New Delhi, 15th September, 2014

By Akash Vashishtha


Buckling under pressure from the Supreme Court over the clearance of development projects near tiger reserves and sanctuaries, the NDA government has reconstituted the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) to comply with rules which require the body to have 15 independent and non-official members.


On August 25, the SC had directed the government not to implement any proposal approved by the NBWL till the next hearing of the matter. The court gave its order in response to a petition filed by a green activist who claimed that the NBWL, constituted by the NDA government, was not in consonance with the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. The matter is slated to come up in court again on Monday.


The petition was filed after the truncated NBWL took up nearly 160 proposals on August 12 and 13 and cleared 133 projects - some of them near the most critical wildlife habitats - while returning 26 and rejecting only one. At the time, the board had only three independent and non-official members as against the required 15. Moreover, the board had representatives of only five states against the requirement of one representative from 10 states.


According to the Wildlife Protection Act, the 47-member NBWL has to include five representatives of green NGOs and 10 independent members, including eminent environmentalists, conservationists and ecologists. The environment ministry consulted attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, who said the ministry "cannot escape from the apex court as its action was not in accordance with the law".


In addition to two expert members - Prof Raman Sukumar, and Dr H.S. Singh - who were in the truncated board formed on July 22, the government has now included V.B. Sawarkar, S.S. Bisht, P.R. Sinha, Dr R.J. Rao, Dr Madan Mohan Pant, Rajendra P. Kerkar and Lav Kumar Khachar.


The board had included only the Gujarat Ecological Research and Education (GEER), a body of the Gujarat government. The environment ministry has now added the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-India, Guwahatibased Aaranyak, Jharkhandbased Nature Conservation Society and Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).


In addition to the representatives of Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Andaman and Nicobar Islands, those of Punjab, Kerala, Gujarat, Tripura and West Bengal have been added to the new board constituted and notified on September 11.


The NBWL is chaired by the prime minister and reviews all wildlife-related issues. Its standing committee, headed by the environment minister, appraises all projects that fall within or around sanctuaries and tiger reserves.


In its affidavit to the Supreme Court, the environment ministry said several matters requiring consideration of the Standing Committee had been pending since September 2013. In view of the pendency of matters, a new Standing Committee was constituted strictly in accordance with the Wildlife Protection Act by nominating 10 members of the NBWL, including nominated non-official members.