|Akash Vashishtha | New Delhi, June 26, 2015 | 02:20|
The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) has cleared 18 out of 25 projects in some of the most crucial wildlife zones of the country, including five key tiger reserves. None of the proposals brought before it at its 34th meeting on June 2, chaired by Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, was rejected. Only four proposals were deferred; site visit was asked in one case; and one was referred back to the state wildlife board.
Threat to habitats
The NBWL cleared six projects inside or on the fringes of five tiger habitats. These include diversion of one hectare of forest land for a Police Skills Community building inside the Udanti-Sitanadi Tiger Reserve in Chhattisgarh; upgradation of National Highway-116 on the fringes (just touching on the buffer) of the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve; a pipeline project inside Mukundra Hills Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan; a new Land and Custom station from Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary under Dudhwa Tiger Reserve in Uttar Pradesh; and a residential-cum-commercial complex inside the Rajaji National Park in Hardwar, Uttarakhand.
The board has also cleared setting up of the South Asian University at Maidan Garhi Delhi, just 100 metres away from the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary; an Integrated Municipal Solid Waste Management project inside the eco-sensitive zone of Bir Motibagh Wildlife Sanctuary in Patiala; and two optical fibre projects of Idea Cellular under Nagarjunasagar Wildlife Management Division in Hyderabad.
Other projects include a road widening project in Lower Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh; a road construction in 19.50 hectare forest land in Khara Conservation Reserve in Poonch; road in 3 hectare of forestland inside National Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh; widening of NH-17 inside the eco-sensitive zone of Karnala Bird Sanctuary in Maharashtra; a road project inside Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary in Sikkim; an underground crude oil pipeline inside the eco-zone of Balaram Ambaji and Jessore Sloth Bear Sanctuary in Gujarat; and the construction of a bridge across Yamuna River in Etawah inside the eco-sensitive zone of Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh. Besides, the committee also recommended a flyover and transmission line elevation project in Hardwar.
Move draws flak
As wildlife experts call for “extra mitigation and maintenance measures” in wake of an increased tiger count from 1,706 in 2010 to 2,226 in 2014, the Modi government has come under sharp criticism. Environment and wildlife lawyer Sanjay Upadhyay said, “We are in the process of challenging this, as the Standing Committee has to be derived from the national board, which in present case has not been done. The board was constituted on Supreme Court’s directions but the Standing Committee has not been formed”.
“Protected areas comprise only 4.3 per cent of the country’s area while core (prime) habitat is just 0.9 per cent. At least this needs to be spared. Every attempt should be made to save these last remaining wildlife areas,” he said.
Upadhyay said, “There is simply no institutional mechanism to monitor compliance and mitigation and the government is neither equipped nor skilled to check this. The NTCA is a toothless body.”
Director General (Forests) SS Garbyal, who heads the environment ministry’s wildlife vertical, said, “I don’t remember (on what was cleared). You can talk to ADG (wildlife).”
BS Bonal, member-secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, said, “The committee has decided the proposals. It is on a case-to-case basis. Conditions have to be placed by NTCA when it comes before us.”