If you have “special interest in wildlife” you could be a member of State Wildlife Board in Madhya Pradesh

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Kanha Tiger Reserve, year 2000. Photo  © Lalit Shastri

Bhopal: Successive governments in Madhya Pradesh have done it with impunity and in the latest instance it is the present Government headed by Shivraj Singh Chouhan that has flouted the statutory provision of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (WPA) regarding the nomination of “eminent conservationists, ecologists and environmentalists” and appointed even persons taking into consideration only their “special interest in wildlife” as members of the State Wildlife Board through a gazette notification issued on 20 November 2020.

Check this gazette notification, especially the subheading after s.no 22 and see how some of the nominated members (s no 23, 24, 28, 29 and 30) have been shown as members having “special interest in wildlife”.

The State government on 20 November 2020 reconstituted the State Wildlife Board. This action had been necessitated since veteran journalist Lalit Shastri, who is also a leading environmentalist, conservationist and wildlife documentary maker, has challenged in Jabalpur High Court (WP 17484/2019) the formation of the (now disbanded) Wildlife Board constituted in 2019 by the previous Kamalnath government on the ground that the notification was illegal as the statutory requirement was not followed while nominating 10 members under the relevant provision of The Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. Section 6 (1) (e) of this Act, introduced with the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 2002 that came into force in 2003 and substituted Section 6 (1) (h) of the Principal Act clearly states “ten persons to be nominated by the State from among eminent conservationists, ecologists and environmentalists including at least two representatives of Scheduled Tribes”.

Section 6 (1) (h) of the Principal act earlier provided for the nomination of “such other person, not exceeding ten, who, in the opinion of the State Government, are interested in the protection of Wildlife, including the representatives of tribals not exceeding three”. The point to be noted is that this provision has been amended and replaced.

Neither bothering to follow the Central Act nor keeping the Chief Minister informed about the statutory requirement is a telling commentary vis-a-vis the bureaucrats who are supposed to work not only as the executive arm but also act as advisors to the Government in all important matters.

The High Court is seized of the matter and the Government was required to submit a reply during the next hearing. After reconstituting the Board, the government would obviously tell the court that since the earlier gazette notification that has been challenged has been replaced by a new notification and the Wildlife Board has already been reconstituted, there is no ground to continue the present case. In this context, it is important to mention that the latest notification to reconstitute the Wildlife Board glaringly reveals that Section 6 (1) (e) of WPA again has not been followed.

Take a closer look at the 20 November 2020 notification. The law clearly spells out that only “eminent conservationists, ecologists and environmentalists” can be inducted as members in the State Wildlife Board. The category under which the members have been inducted in the newly constituted board says “पर्यावरणविद/सरंक्षण के क्षेत्र में विशेषज्ञ” (law wants them to be eminent conservationists, ecologists and environmentalists) but against the names of several members inducted under this category, the notification mentions: “वन्यप्राणी में विशेष रुचि” (special interest in wildlife). One doesn’t need space science to pinpoint the difference between “eminent conservationists, ecologists and environmentalists” on the one side and those having only “special interest in wildlife” on the other. It is simple, one will have to know the difference to appreciate why at all there was a need to go for an amendment and substitute Section 6 (1) (h) of the Principal Act with Section (1) (e). The idea was to elevate the level of the State Wildlife Boards by ensuring only experts are inducted

The notification of 20 November reveals more than what the Government would apparently like to hide. Question arises: What was stopping the Government from mentioning that the ten persons nominated to the Wildlife Board are from the “eminent conservationists, ecologists and environmentalists” category”. But that would have been a blatant lie as a couple of those who have been inducted have nothing much to write home about as conservationists or experts. It is therefore axiomatic that by sticking to the term “वन्यप्राणी में विशेष रुचि” (special interest in wildlife) successive State governments are bent upon trampling on the letter and spirit of a Central Act only to keep the backdoor open to bring the backroom boys and those with political clout in an important body like the State Wildlife Board.

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