The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) is constituted by the Central Government under Section 5 A of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (WLPA). The National Board may, at its discretion, constitute a Standing Committee under sub-section (1) of Section 5B. The Standing Committee shall consist of the Vice-Chairperson (Union Minister in charge of Forests and Wildlife) the Member Secretary and not more than ten members to be nominated by the Vice-Chairperson from amongst the members of the National Board.
The WLPA mandates that without the approval/recommendation of the NBWL, construction of tourist lodges, alteration of the boundaries of PAs, destruction or diversion of wildlife habitat and de-notification of Tiger Reserves, cannot be done.
Several proposals seeking statutory approvals for such projects come up before the Standing Committee which meets once every three months to deliberate and grant or reject approvals. Every proposal requires to be submitted by the State Government in the approved format with complete details (maps, field assessments, alternatives explored…). It must also contain the clear opinion of the officer in charge of a PA, the Chief Wildlife Warden and the State Government in consultation with the State Board for Wildlife. The Standing Committee will then have to consider such proposals in accordance with the provisions of the WLPA.
One of the most important provisions of the WLPA (Section 29 for Sanctuaries and sub-section (6) of Section 35 for National Parks) is that no person can destroy wildlife or divert the habitat of any wild animal without a permit and no such permit can be granted unless it is considered necessary for improvement and better management of wildlife therein. Government projects also come within the ambit of this provision.
Most of the proposals that come up before the Standing Committee are for dams, highways, mines, power lines and such other projects that destroy wildlife or involve diversion of habitat. It is therefore mandatory for the Standing Committee to adjudicate every such proposal strictly in conformity with Section 29 or sub-section (6) of Section 35. Every decision must be backed by clear reason(s), in writing, as to how the project or the decision to approve it ensures improvement and better management of wildlife therein.
However, a careful perusal of most of the decisions of the Standing Committee posted on the website of the Ministry of Environment & Forests does not disclose any details on how compliance of Section 29 or Section 35(6) of the WLPA has been ensured. This in the context of the fact that many approved proposals cannot even remotely be categorized as projects that they are for improvement / better management of wildlife or its habitat.
The NBWL Standing Committee chaired by the Union Minister, Environment & Forests is duty bound to ensure compliance of the mandate’s statutory processes prescribed by the WLPA in letter and spirit.
Specific provisions in the WLPA include:
- S 33 (a): No construction of commercial lodges, hotels… shall be undertaken except with the prior approval of the National Board
- S 35(5): No alteration of the boundaries of a National Park except on a recommendation of the National Board;
- S 35(6): No destruction, removal of wildlife or forest produce from a National Park or diversion of habitat unless State Government in consultation with the National Board authorizes the issue of such permit
- S 38-O (g): Ensure Tiger Reserves and areas linking one protected area with another are not diverted for ecologically unsustainable uses except in public interest and with the approval of the National Board
- S 38-W(1) & (2): No alteration or denotification of Tiger Reserves without the approval of the National Board for Wildlife