National Board for Wildlife
National Board for Wild Life is a “Statutory Organization” constituted under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Theoretically, the board is “advisory” in nature and advises the Central Government on framing policies and measures for conservation of wildlife in the country. However, it is a very important body because it serves as apex body to review all wildlife-related matters and approve projects in and around national parks and sanctuaries.
The National Board for Wildlife is chaired by India’s Prime Minister and its vice chairman is Minister of Environment. Further, the board is mammoth body with 47-members including Parliament Members, NGOs, eminent conservationists, ecologists and environmentalists, Government secretaries of various departments, Chief of the Army Staff, Director General of Forests, tourism etc. etc.
- The members include 15 non-government members, 19 ex-officio members and 10 government officials such as secretaries.
- There is a standing committee of the board which approves all the projects falling within protected wildlife areas or within 10 km of them; but notably, law does not specify the formation of the standing committee. The rules under the wildlife law allow the board to take decisions with half the members but are silent about the standing committee.
Functions & Importance
Primary function of the Board is to promote the conservation and development of wildlife and forests. It has power to review all wildlife-related matters and approve projects in and around national parks and sanctuaries. No alternation of boundaries in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries can be done without approval of the NBWL.
Some of the major cases pending before the board include the coal blocks in and around central Indian tiger reserves such as Pench and Tadoba, Hydroelectric projects in Northeast India, Highway and road projects through several wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, Iron ore mining in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand in elephant areas. In all, there are around 200 projects pending for approval for clearance from the Board.
Reconstitution of the Board & Issues arising out of it
- On July 22 the central government had partly reconstituted the National Board for Wildlife with three non-government members instead of the mandatory 15. The board’s standing committee was also formed with these three members.
- Further, in August second week, the standing committee chaired by Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar met and gave its nod to around 130 projects.
- However, in the last week of August, the Supreme Court ordered the Centre to put on hold the decisions taken by the board as it had noted that the nomination of board members was not done in consonance with the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act.
- The Government is in the process of defending its decision in the SC.
The above general knowledge of NBWL brings out two things in picture.
- Current NBWL is a mammoth body, but its working was such that it resulted in slow and shoddy processing of environmental clearances
- The Government proposed and partially implemented a small NBWL, synergized with the government’s declared goals of speedy processing of environmental clearances
The law prescribed NBWL as a mammoth body to involve a wide array of experts and officials so that all work in synergy and bring out an eco-centric approach to the development in the vicinity of protected areas. However, it resulted in slow clearance to development projects, hurting the economy. The conservationists fear that the new lean NBWL will now be utilitarianism focused and will lead to environment degradation, with cost to the economy in long run. It can hurt the environment and further create troubles for our wildlife, whose breeding populations are now confined to our protected national parks and sanctuaries.
The question is – is the recent government decision to trim the NBWL justified?
The following arguments make sense in the light of the above discussion:
- A mammoth NBWL led to a tardy approach to environment clearances, so the government decision is justifiable for the sake of development. However, development also includes a clean environment. So, any decision which leads to harm to the environment is not only harming our fundamental right to life and a clean environment, but also poses danger to the already endangered species confined in our protected areas.
- There is a need to reconstitute the NBWL, but this reconstitution should be done in consonance with the basic ideology with which it was enshrined in the Wildlife Protection Act.