Big Promises, Bigger Silence
An unusually productive meeting of the National Board for Wildlife has raised hope. But will the prime minister deliver?
forming a sub-committee to revamp the rules of proceedings. “There can be a provision for the minister to overrule objections by members after duly recording the same but the entire board cannot be made to look complacent,” said a member.
Fireworks were avoided again when the minister agreed to seek more funds from the Planning Commission to support wildlife areas other than tiger reserves. This fiscal year, Project Tiger was sanctioned 167.70 crore, while the allocation for India’s 600-odd protected areas was just 73.50 crore.
The Centre’s 800 crore Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitat ( IDWH) initiative earmarks only 250 crore to look after the protection of all wildlife outside protected forests across the country. Natarajan also agreed to set up a Central body to monitor recovery strategies of 16 critically endangered species and enhance the present budget of 100 crore under the IDWH.
The 11th Plan earmarked 778 crore for the 40 tiger reserves. During the same period, Project Elephant got only 82 crore. The minister accepted, in principle, the pro- posal for setting up a National Elephant Conservation Authority and assured the NBWL to bring key elephant corridors under the protected areas network in the forthcoming amendment of the Wildlife Protection Act.
Next up for discussion was the contentious issue of project proponents obtaining green clearances through a strategic fait accompli. It has become a routine to start work on a project after securing the environmental clearance and then citing the quantum of investment already made as a justification for demanding the wildlife clearance. Acknowledging the problem, Natarajan assured the NBWL that environmental clearance will henceforth be considered provisional till wildlife clearance is granted.
All these assurances, if delivered, will make for more stringent compliance to green laws and, therefore, can be viewed as additional roadblocks by those obsessed with growth. All this while, the PM maintained a stoic silence in the meeting. In fact, he barely spoke after delivering his brief chairman’s speech.
Given the PM’s public belligerence to “environmental licence raj”, it is difficult to imagine a sudden change of heart. Not surprising that a number of NBWL members have vowed to follow up on the decisions made and assurances offered right from the stage of preparation of the meeting’s minutes.
The coal scam unfolded under his watch and Manmohan Singh has since been accused of Qui tacet consentire. But when it comes to stricter green laws, prime ministerial silence may not necessarily imply consent.
• Red signal Illegal quarrying inside the BRT Tiger Reserve in Karnataka