Tag Archives: State Wildlife Board

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.

Jabalpur High Court admits petition against reconstitution of State Wildlife Board

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Madhya Pradesh High Court on Friday, 30 August 2019,  admitted a petition by senior journalist and eminent conservationist Lalit Shastri challenging the reconstitution of the State Wildlife Board on the grounds that it is vitiated by law and is against the mandatory provision of Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.

Since a petition on similar grounds (WP 17127/2019) by social activist Ajay Dube  has been admitted by the Jabalpur High Court on August 26; notice has been served to the State Government and other respondents in this matter; and they have been given three weeks’ time to respond; the Single Judge Bench of Justice Subodh Abhyankar, when the petition by Shastri came up on Friday, ordered that it be linked with WP 17127/2019.

Senior Advocate Praveen Kumar Pandey presented the case on behalf of the petitioner in Jabalpur High Court on Friday.

Lalit Shastri

Through his petition, Shastri has called in question the legality, validity and propriety of the State Government’s gazette notification of 3 August 2019 for the  reconstitution of the State Wild Life Board under section 6  of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. Section 6 (1) (e) of this Act, introduced with the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 2002, which came into force in 2003 and substitutes Section 6 (1) (h) of the Principal Act clearly states that “ten persons to be nominated by the State from among eminent conservationists, ecologists and environmentalist  including at least two representatives of Scheduled Tribes”, but in the gazette notification issued for reconstituting the Board, three persons are shown as having only ‘special interest in wildlife’ and they are not eminent conservationists, ecologists and environmentalists. Two members of  Scheduled Tribes also have not been nominated as required under the provision of Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.  

The petition by Shastri points to a government letter dated  8.7.2019. Through this letter, nine persons had been jointly informed that they were being nominated to the State Wildlife Board. 

This letter was also addressed to the petitioner, who is an eminent conservationist, wildlife expert, birder and wildlife filmmaker of international repute.  In the gazette notification that was issued on 3 August 2019, some of these nine persons were replaced by those having only “special interest in wildlife”. This was done merely on grounds of political obligation,  bias, partial reasons by adopting illegal and arbitrary manner, Shastri has alleged and demanded a “speaking order” from the Government in this regard. 

The entire proceeding leading to the gazette notification for reconstituting the Wildlife Board, according to the petitioner, is vitiated by law against the mandatory provision of Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, as amended by the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 2002 (of 2003).

For more than two decades, Shastri has played an active role as a conservationist. He is founder President of CREW ( Crusade for Revival of Environment and Wildlife) a not-for-profit organisation.

Wildlife Management in Tiger State: In the throes of a serious crisis

Lalit Shastri

The Madhya Pradesh Finance Department has blocked the use of Park Development Fund – the money generated from wildlife tourism in Tiger Reserves through entry gate, elephants, rest houses etc – which has touched a figure of approximately Rs. 27 crore every year. This despite the fact that there is a government order for the utilisation of this fund that does not go to the government exchequer.

There is a committee at the State level, presided by the State Principal Chief Conservator of Forest for utilisation of Park Development Fund. It comprises of a representative of the Finance department, Tourism department and also nominated members. Every Tiger Reserve, National Park or Wildlife Sanctuary comes before this committee with a proposal for the utilisation of the money earned by them through tourism. There are standing instructions that 33 per cent of the fund will go to the eco-development committees, besides the local communities, and 10 per cent to the Eco-Tourism Development Board. For the remaining 57 per cent of the Park Development Fund, the committee takes up proposals on a case-by-case basis and decides whether or not to take them up for implementation.

This procedure was being followed for the utilisation of the Park Development Fund continuously since 1993 but this year, June onward, the working of the Committee for Park Development Fund has been kept on hold by an order of the State Finance department. The gravity and seriousness of the problem can be gauged from the fact that midway when this committee was conducting its last meeting and proposals were being considered, the Principal Secretary Finance had shot a letter directing that the meeting be stopped. The message was loud and clear that this process cannot be allowed to continue. As a result, the contractual labour employed in Tiger Reserves and National Parks have been denied their wages for last many months as floating fund is not available with the park management to meet the wage related commitment.  It should be noted that major innovative steps taken for translocation of Gaur from Kanha to Bandhavgarh or the endangered Barasingha from Kanha Tiger Reserve to Satpura and Van Vihar National Park was done with this fund that now stands blocked.

Further on the issue of Park Development Fund, it should be noted that Section 38X of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 provides for the establishment of Tiger Conservation Foundation and makes it mandatory for this Foundation to facilitate ecological, economic, social and cultural development in the tiger reserves; promote eco-tourism with the involvement of local stake-holder communities and provide support to safeguard the natural environment in the tiger reserves; facilitate the creation of, and or maintenance of, such assets as may be necessary for fulfilling the above said objectives; and to augment and mobilise financial resources, including recycling of entry and such other fees received in a tiger reserve, to foster stake-holder development and eco-tourism. Hence it beats imagination, how the State Finance Department could intervene and pass instructions to block the process for utilisation of Park Development Fund. Such a step amounts to defying the provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Act.

Leopard rescue

There is also a budget-head created for Wildlife managment outside the protected areas. This money could be spent near places like Balaghat, Harda, Betul, Katni, Umaria and areas surrounding Bhopal, where there is a breeding tiger population. While the provision was significant earlier, the budgeted amount under this head has got reduced to just Rs. 10 crore in 2019-20. Forest and wildlife managers are a worried lot today. They are asking what will happen to efforts for building the capacity of the people or for creating infrastructure for the protection of wildlife. They are also drawing attention to the coordinated efforts made at all levels of the forest department in recent years to protect and conserve the tiger population, both inside the tiger reserves and outside. In this regard, they especially draw attention to the special budgetary allocation and role played by those involved in the relocation of about 80 villages that crucially required to be relocated for protection and conservation of habitat in Protected Areas. Pointing to the figure of 526 tigers, as per the fourth cycle of All India Tiger Estimation – 2018, which has helped Madhya Pradesh regain the “Tiger State” status, they are asking who shall be held accountable if there is a decline in tiger numbers in coming years.

Inquiries have revealed that even earlier the Nursery Management Fund sanctioned for the first time in 1997, which acted as a revolving fund, was similarly blocked by a bureaucrat heading the forest department. He took the plea that the Finance Department had not been consulted in this matter and forwarded the concerned file to the Finance department.

Another burning issue relates to the tourism lobby that has got into the overdrive mode and is using every trick up its sleeve to build inroads and have its sway over the management of Tiger Reserves in Madhya Pradesh. In a related development, Valmik Thapar, one of the founders of Ranthambore Foundation, who has been nominated earlier this month as a member of the reconstituted State Wildlife Board [which is in the midst of a huge controversy as the matter relating to “violation of Section 6 of the Wild Life (Protection), Act 1972 in appointment of non-official members of the Board” is now pending before the Jabalpur High Court for adjudication] sent a proposal to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath recently advising him that an empowered committee be set up to promote tourism in Tiger Reserves and that a former chief minister be appointed as its chairman. He has also volunteered to play the role of vice-chairman in the proposed committee. It is learnt that the Wildlife Wing of the State Forest Department has turned down this proposal with the remark that there is no provision under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 to allow any such committee. Already there is provision for State Wildlife Board and also the provision for a Steering Committee headed by the Chief Minister under Section 38U of WPA. Then there is Section38O (1) (c), which provides for laying down normative standards for tourism activities and guidelines for project tiger from time to time for tiger conservation in the buffer and core area of tiger reserves and ensure their due compliance. An eminent conservationist, when contacted, said with regard to the ongoing State Wildlife Board controversy that it is an entirely a different matter, that those in knowledgeable circles have started referring to the State Wildlife Board, which has lost its credibility, as “State Wildlife Project Clearance Board”.

When it comes to the bureaucrats belonging to the elite IAS, it has been observed that they lose no opportunity to assert their position even in matters that require expertise and experience in terms of wildlife management. A retired Indian Forest Service Officer, revealed how the Narmada Valley Development Authority Vice Chairman, an IAS officer, had moved a note-sheet once with the proposal that the Vice Chairman of NVDA should also be given the powers of the Chief Wildlife Warden. The proposal was mooted when NVDA was required to shell out Rs 34 crore for the proper conservation of forests, wildlife and fisheries in the Narmada Valley. This proposal had met its fate when the Wildlife Wing of the Forest Department cited Section 4 (1)(a) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 under which the State Government may, for the purpose of the Act or enforcement of the Act, appoint a Chief Wild Life Warden and it was categorically pointed out to the NVDA Vice Chairman that the Act only
allows the appointment of “a” CWW.