Nitin Sethi, TNN

NEW DELHI: Wildlife experts on the board of the apex National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) will clear development projects only over those forestlands which explicitly enjoy a higher level of protection under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 or are mandated for greater safety by the Supreme Court.

Projects in forest patches, such as elephant reserves and green zones that conservationists refer to as "wildlife corridors" but are not designated as special legal entities under the law, will not come under the purview of the wildlife board, the environment ministry has decided.

The NBWL is the apex wildlife body headed by the PM. Under various provisions and Supreme Court orders, development projects falling in designated wildlife zones and areas around these are required to be cleared by the standing committee of the board. The standing committee comprises several wildlife experts from outside the government besides officials.

Some non-government experts had demanded that any area suggested as a wildlife corridor ˜ an area that wildlife animals use frequently but do not reside in ˜ as well as other wildlife patches regardless of legal status also come under their scrutiny.

However, the environment ministry has decided that clearance from the NBWL standing committee shall be required only for national parks, sanctuaries, tiger reserves and corridors for tigers - all specially protected zones under the wildlife Act.

Elephant reserves alone are spread over more than 58,000 sq km and cover not only forest-bearing lands but also agricultural lands, villages and other land under revenue control. Elephant reserves are demarcated as an area over which states can spend the funds received from Project Elephant but do not enjoy any special protection cover under law.

Wildlife corridors have been defined by conservation scientists for various animals and are listed for levels of significance but the term remains controversial in the legal domain as in several cases, the use of different criteria results in varying identification of these patches.

In an ongoing case before the Supreme Court, the definition of an elephant corridor has ended up in huge controversy with many villagers and others standing to be impacted by how the corridor is demarcated, and then treated, for protection of wildlife.

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