EXPOSE FORCES MINISTRY TO CORRECT ITS MANDATE - 15th June 2012

Following this article, the MoEF updated its website and decided to bring back tiger reserves and elephant corridors under the ambit of the NBWL

AFTER TEHELKA exposed how the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) had violated its own mandate by not making public its decision to remove tiger reserves from the ambit of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL), (MOEF Subverts its Own Conservation Mandate, 2 June 2012, by Cara Tejpal), the ministry has now corrected its steps. Amending internal guidelines, the MOEF has brought back tiger and elephant reserves under the purview of the NBWL.

The TEHELKA article had detailed how the MOEF had thwarted its own conservation mandate of protecting tiger reserves from mining and industrial activities. What this meant is that the Standing Committee of the NBWL, which had hitherto maintained a strict watch on all mining and industrial activities in tiger reserves, would no longer do so. In what could only be termed baffling, the decision was not made public, and circulated only within the ministry through an internal memo.

In March 2011, the MOEF had released a 12-page note. Titled "Guidance document for taking up non-forestry activities in wildlife habitats", the note was a guide for project proponents looking to apply for clearance from the Standing Committee of NBWL. It asserted all diversion proposals within national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and tiger reserves should only be allowed after a clearance from the NBWL. The note also explicitly stated that any diversion involving elephant reserves and wildlife corridors also be referred to the Standing Committee.

In February 2012, the same guidelines were up for review once more. The minutes of an in-house MoEF meeting chaired by the minister and attended by various forest officials throw light on how environmental decisions are taken in the country. In a complete about-turn of what the ministry had mandated a year ago, it was decided that projects impacting tiger and elephant reserves and wildlife corridors need not be placed before the Standing Committee. Diversions can be effected at the discretion of the ministry's Environment Division.

Furthermore, the ministry had directed the Environment Division to review all projects that were put before the Standing Committee between 15 March 2011 and 23 February 2012. It could now clear diversion projects (including those already rejected) without obtaining the Standing Committee's view! Shocking though it may seem, this was not the first time the ministry had undermined the NBWL. For its part, the NBWL has also not met since March 2010, when in fact, it is required to do so once every year.

On being approached by TEHELKA for their response, officials dodged all questions. It was after much effort that the IG, Wildlife, finally answered one of our calls. Not surprisingly, he too avoided making any direct comment citing protocols that were in place for such queries.

Following the TEHELKA exposé, the ministry has now reviewed this decision and brought tiger and elephant reserves back under the NBWL Standing Committee.

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