Concern as Wildlife Board approves 45 infrastructure projects in protected areas  

After around 4000 ha of prime forest land was recommended to be cleared by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) in the last three months, as many as 45 infrastructure projects have been cleared by the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) to come up in the protected areas. 

However, several experts have flagged these clearances, saying the regulator has become a facilitator for these projects. 

With about 75 per cent of the projects being cleared by the Standing Committee of NBWL at its last meeting on January 21, some of them are slated to come up in some of the most critical wildlife habitats in the country. 

The move comes despite the NDA government announcing plans to put a special wildlife protection regime in place. 

The high incidence of wildlife clearances by the board also follows the Environment ministry’s move to limit the extent of eco-sensitive zones of protected habitats like Okhla Bird Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh to 100 metres, Dadra and Nagar Haveli Sanctuary by 100 metres, and the Kaimur Wildlife Sanctuary in Bihar. 

While only 15 proposals were sent back for additional information or reconsideration, the remaining ones were cleared by the board either in their entirety or with some conditions. 

The cleared projects include a coal-based thermal power plant of Neyveli Lignite Corporation at Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, situated in close proximity to the Gulf of Mannar National Park, one of the rare sites for corals and threatened marine species; and a 100- km road project in Namdapha Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh. 

The cleared proposals also include exclusion of 281.97 ha from the Ramgarh Wildlife Sanctuary in Rajasthan; exclusion of a limestone bearing mineral zone from the Kaimur Wildlife Sanctuary; a railway track in cutting across the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh; 10 road projects inside Sonchiriya Wildlife Sanctuary, a rare habitat of endangered Great Indian Bustards, also in Madhya Pradesh; an excavation project inside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai; an optical fibre-laying project in the Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary. 

“How could in just two hours, the board decided on the merit and impact of a project on the wildlife? There is no rejection (of proposals). It clearly shows that due processes are not being followed. The wildlife board is actually a regulator but has become a facilitator of projects,” said a former member of the NBWL. 

“Development is certainly a priority but cannot be pursued at the cost of natural heritage. Connectivity of habitats and reserves needs to be maintained,” said Dipankar Ghose, director (species and landscape programme), WWF-India.

Justifying all the approvals, Raman Sukumar, an expert member, said: “Most of those cleared projects were of trivial nature and were not major. We have cleared the ones which received environmental clearances.”