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140 projects on truncated wildlife panel's clearance agenda

Projects impact 80 national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and tiger reserves

Nitin Sethi & Somesh Jha  |  New Delhi 

The truncated National Wildlife Board's standing committee will appraise about 140 projects that impact around 80 national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and tiger reserves on Monday and Tuesday. It will also appraise proposals to reduce areas of some wildlife sanctuaries.

The 12-member standing committee meeting will be chaired by the Union environment and forests minister Prakash Javadekar, with senior forest officials. The standing committee will have one forest official from a Gujarat government organisation, GEER Foundation, and one retired Gujarat forest official, H S Singh, besides one non-government wildlife expert, R Sukumar, on board, instead of the mandatory eight non-government wildlife and ecology experts.

Business Standard accessed the agenda of the meeting that has not been made public by the ministry. It has been circulated only to members of the standing committee. The environment ministry had earlier made it necessary to disclose the agenda in advance to public to invite comments from others. Besides the members, the standing committee meeting is attended only by senior wildlife officials of states that have sent the proposals.

The proposals include large infrastructure projects such as the 520-Mw Teesta-IV dam in Sikkim, which the previous standing committee members had objected to in unanimity also pointing to other dams that had come up in the state illegally. The long list includes oil exploration, thermal power projects, highways, power lines, limestone and other mining, irrigation and water supply projects, oil pipelines, limestone mining, border fencing and other defence projects. Some of these projects are to cut through or are in the close proximity of tiger reserves such as Pench in Madhya Pradesh, Periyar in Kerala and Dampa in Mizoram.

Business Standard had reported the controversial appointment of only these three individuals on board the National Board of Wildlife instead of the statutory 15 as provided in the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The National Democratic Alliance government has decided to hold the meeting of this toothless board's standing committee to clear a host of old pending and new projects in and around wildlife zones.

After a Supreme Court order, the standing committee is required to appraise all projects that fall within these national parks, sanctuaries and tiger reserves or within a 10-kilometre radius of such areas. The committee is also mandated to set up rules and regulations that govern such clearances besides other policy matters on the subject.

But the ministry now expects the standing committee to move faster on clearing the projects, which include around 35 pending from before and a fresh set of more than 100 proposals that have been proposed before the ministry by the state governments.

The previous meetings of the standing committee under the United Progressive Alliance regime had listed the need to have proper rules for the functioning of the panel, guidelines for linear projects that require wildlife areas and other larger policy concerns. Though these have been put on agenda, sources said, they are unlikely to be addressed in the August 12-13 meeting with all but one non-government expert-member now absent and a host of clearances listed for clearance over the two days.

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First Published: Sat, August 09 2014. 00:49 IST