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.
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the government would obviously tell the court that since the earlier gazette notification that has been challenged has been replaced by a new notification and the Wildlife Board has already been reconstituted, there is no ground to continue the present case.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.
BHOPAL:Principal Chief Conservator of Forest and Head of the Forest Department of Madhya Pradesh has grossly undermined the letter and spirit of the Forest Conservation Act, Forest Rights Act and Wildlife Protection Act and written to all Chief Conservators of Forest and the DFOs ordering them to identify degraded forest land falling within their jurisdiction for private investment.
There are three Acts – FCA, Forest Rights Act, and Wildlife Protection Act – that must be amended before the Madhya Pradesh Government can go ahead with its latest initiative to parcel out degraded forest land to the private sector.
Section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act of 2019 imposes restriction on the de-reservation of forests or use of forest land for non-forest purpose without the prior approval of the Central Government. Section 2 (iii) restricts assigning of any forest land or any portion thereof by way of lease or otherwise to any private person or to any authority, corporation, agency or any other organisation not owned, managed or controlled by Government. Obviously taking into consideration Section 2 of FCA, the PCCF Madhya Pradesh has categorically stated that the process of inviting private investment will be initiated after approval from the Government of India. As far as approval from GoI is concerned, the big question is whether it will be blanket approval to parcel out for investment forest land classified as degraded area in Madhya Pradesh or the approval would be sought on a case by case basis. If the State Government goes for a blanket permission from the Central Government and succeeds in getting it at one go that would amount to complete violation of the letter and spirit of FCA
The FCA defines “non-forest purpose” as the breaking up or clearing of any forest land or portion thereof for a) the cultivation of tea, coffee, spices, rubber, palms, oil-bearing plants, horticultural crops or medicinal plants; b) any purpose other than reafforestation.
It is also mandatory for the Central Government to constitute a Committee to advise the Government with regard to the grant of approval under Section 2. This clearly means that there are checks and balances and every proposal for private sector involvement will have to be considered on merit by this committee and its advice will have a bearing when it comes to the Centre granting or not granting approval under Section 2 of FCA.
Coming to the Forest Rights Act, villagers have community rights over forests and many have individual rights to till the forest land, this will come in the way of any arrangement with private organisations.
Then we have the issue of protection of wildlife and their habitat in forest land owned by any private agency. These issues directly linked to Wildlife Protection Act will have to be addressed and tackled before the State Government can think of moving ahead on this path on a fast pace.
Madhya Pradesh PCCF Rajesh Shrivastava, in a letter on Tuesday 20 October 2020, has brought on record that under the Working Plan, out of total notified area of 94689 sq km in Madhya Pradesh, leaving aside the area managed by the Forest Development Corporation, about 37420 sq km is classified as degraded area. The letter underscores the need to reforest the degraded areas in order to enhance livelihoods of local communities and to mitigate the effects of climate change and to increase the flow of water to achieve the goal of sustainable operation of ecological services such as water cycle. Considering the positive role of private investment in bringing in capital, the PCCF has highlighted the importance of new technical and managerial skills for the improvement of the forest areas. According to him, there is a consensus at the State Government level to invite private investment to achieve the goal of increasing productivity of these areas.
The present attempt of the State government, the PCCF has stated, “is aimed at inviting capital, new technical and managerial skills in the forestry sector through private investment to improve degraded forests and also increasing employment opportunities for local communities in the short term and to strengthen livelihoods based on natural resources in the long term. By providing local products in place of imported raw materials to wood based industries.”
Further, the PCCF has said “this would help in achieving the goal of “self-reliant India” through sustainablle management of ecosystems and green cover. This would in turn help in achieving the targets set for the country for mitigation of climate change impacts through carbon sequestration”.
This is not the first time that the political masters and the goverment of the day have set their eyes on forest land. Blatant action was taken in this direction even earlier.
After reading the letter of the PCCF, one wonders why the Indian Forest Service is needed any more. If the forest officers have lost their skills and relevance, this service needs to be disbanded – Comment from a retired PCCF, Madhya Pradesh
MP State Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2018-2030 proposes PPP model of outsourced funding option for restoration of degraded forests, but the present Office Memo issued by Head of Forest Force does not take care of interests of Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) which is ultra vires with the statutory provisions of The Biological Diversity Act, 2002 Sec 3, 7, 23.b, 24.2, 43 and relevant rules under MP Biodiversity Rules and Central Regulations 2014. In forested areas, MP Government, by an amendment had given the responsibility of BMCs to Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMCs). But the OM issued by HoFF does not attend the issue of BMCs and their statutory powers over Acess to Bioresources on such Protected Forests that may be leased out to private individuals/organisations under PPP model. The ppp model may be ok to restore the degraded forest ecosystems, but under CBD and BD Act Nagoya protocol Fair and Equitable Sharing aspects and Section 43 rights of BMCs needs to be protected. Madhya Pradesh State Biodiversity Board (MPSBB) needs to initiate the issue immediately.
It’s for the government to see that International treaties are honoured under article 51 of the Constitution. If the proposal is executed as it looks, then Panchayat Act, PESA and sovereign rights of people on Biodiversity and Bioresources shall get negated.
Before the State government takes such a drastic decision, public consultation and public hearings are must, because we are not clear how the Ecorestoration issues are going to be attended. What will be the role and responsibilities of JFMC-cum-BMCs, MP Forest Department, Governments (State and Central), and Private Operators. – Comment from a retired PCCF, Madhya Pradesh
Bhopal: The reconstitued Madhya Pradesh State Wildlife Board, notified on 3 August 2019, is in the midst of a raging controversy at the very outset as there is no dearth of charges regarding flouting of mandatory requirements when it comes to the nomination of members to this high powered body under the Wildlife Protection Act.
RTI activist and Wildlife expert Ajay Dubey has raised serious objections and written a letter to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath urging him to disband the reconstituted Wildlife Board. His demand is that rules should be framed first and a new Board should be constituted within the legal framework. If the Government fails to rectify its mistake, he would be compelled to approach the Court, Dubey has categorically stated.
In his letter to the Chief Minister delivered on the eve of “Adivasi Divas” ( 9 August 2019 – a day devoted to the Scheduled Tribes and declared as a holiday by the State Government), Dubey has highlighted a string of illegalities and urged the government to demonstrate its will to protect wildlife and safeguard the interests of the forest dwellers by disbanding the present body and replacing it with a new one. Dubey writes:
Under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, it is mandatory since 2003 for both the Central Government and the State Governments to set up a Wildlife Board for the protection of wildlife.
Under Section 6 of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, the Central Government had duly formulated the rules and constituted the National Wildlife Board in 2003, but the Madhya Pradesh Government did not make the necessary rules under Section 64 of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and has been constituting the Wildlife Board constinuously since 2003 and this is against the law of the land.
I have formally requested successive governments on numerous occasions to correct this serious legal error, but till date the state government has not bothered to act in this matter.
Your government recently on 3 Augsut 2019 has reconstituted the MP State Wildlife Board in the absence of the necessary rules, which is not only illegal but also against the interests of forest dwellers, the biggest protectors of forest and wildlife.
Unfortunately, your government has discriminated against the forest dwellers by not inducting those from the Scheduled Tribes among the non-official members in this reconstituted board.
Under Section 6 (1) (E) of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, the State Government is required to nominate10 non-official members who have to be eminent persons working in the sphere of wildlife conservation. It is mandatory under the Act, that two of these 10 members should be from the Scheduled Tribes.
The absence of members of the tribal community among the 10 non-official members shows the insensitivity of the rulingCongress party towards the tribal society.
As per the provisions of the Act, the State Government has nominated 3 MLAs in the Board and 2 of these are ST MLAs. But this does not fulfiill the compulsory requirement of having a minimum of 2 ST members among the 10 non-official members. Even earlier, State Forest Department had earlier written a letter to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) regarding the appointment of 2 ST non-official members and had underscored the mandatory requirement in this matter.
It is also necessary to inform you here at this juncture that your government has made 2 members in the reconstituted State Wildlife Board only due to “interest” in wildlife which is unfair according to the law because the member has to be an eminent and reputed personality in the field of wildlife conservation.
Your government has nominated a member of the board whose family members have illegally captured land of tribal society near Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve and confirmed it in the report of former Shahdol division commissioner. You should investigate it.
Your government has made a controversial person a member of the Wildlife Board. Last year who was found moving inside the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan flouting the riules. He was caught on camera trap and his photograph also went viral. The photo is attached and the matter should be investigated.
Your government selected most of the non-official members from outside Madhya Pradesh and made a retired IFS officer as member who has been posted outside Madhya Pradesh / country for the last 15 years. These members are not aware of the ground reality of Madhya Pradesh.
Your government has expressed insensitivity towards managing the problems of conservation of future forests and wildlife of Madhya Pradesh by appointing aged persons as non-official members of the Board.
I have come to know that the Forest Department had presented to you the list of people associated with wildlife conservation for the State Wildlife Board, but bypassing it, due to political and personal interests, the Chief Minister’s office selected unqualified people against the rules.
I would like to inform you that I had received a request from the Forest Department for nomination for the post of non-official member in the State Wildlife Board but I politely declined it.
It is necessary to inform you that I have been working for the last 20 years for the protection of forests, environment and wildlife.
Respected Chief Minister, please dissolve the illegal State Wildlife Board immediately and make rules under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 to reconstitute the board by inducting duly qualified and eminent persons in it. If your government fails to take the necessary steps in this direction, then I will be forced to go to the court.
On the eve of International Tribal Day, please take necessary steps to improve the working and the thought process of the forest department towards the tribal society.
Today (7 April 2018) Khan was granted bail by a district and sessions court in Jodhpur.
District and Sessions Judge Ravindra Kumar Joshi allowed Khan’s plea for bail and suspension of sentence so that he can file an appeal against his conviction and sentencing.
WLPA was enacted with the objective of effectively protecting the wildlife of this country and to control poaching, smuggling and illegal trade in wildlife and its derivatives. The Act was amended in January 2003 and punishment and penalty for offences under the Act were made more stringent. In the meanwhile, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has even proposed further amendments in the law by introducing more rigid measures to strengthen the Act. The objective is to provide protection to the listed endangered flora and fauna and ecologically important protected areas.
After Salman’s conviction by a trial court in Jodhpur in the blackbuk poaching case, the issue of forest conservation, wildlife protection and ecological stability of the country is being discussed in the public domain in a big way and in the end, the point being driven home, and rightly so, is that the law should follow its own course and anyone who breaks the law should be punished.
So far as the law is concerned, Salman’s case is more or less settled, although it remains to be seen what would be the outcome of appeals in higher courts in this matter.
The enforcement of the law leading to Salman Khan’s conviction in the blackbuck poaching case notwithstanding, what is a matter of serious concern is the poor record when it comes to implementing the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act in letter and spirit from the top to the cutting edge level.
The WLPA revolves around the Chief Wildlife Warden (CWLW), appointed under Section 4 of the WLPA. The CWLW has been empowered with well defined and wide-raging powers, duties and responsibilities. But it has been observed that most CWLWs are not fulfilling their statutory duties comprehensively, as provided under the Act.
Barring exceptions, CWLWs are behaving more like Wildlife Administrators or Wildlife Tourism Managers, obviously to please the political executives to further their career. In the process, they are sacrificing the interest of the wildlife in their jurisdiction.
The expert view is that CWLW must have two specialised functional areas under their command- wildlife law and competence of technical management of species and the habitat, including Ethnology or study of Animal Behavior, Wildlife Ecology, Limnology and Marine Biology, Genetics and Breeding Techniques, Evolution – including Migration and Dispersal of species, Wildlife Physiology, Cell Biology, Serology, Forensic Biology, Population Pyramid Studies, Landscape planning to cope with porosity and fragmentation, understanding of Zone of Influence, and knowledge of Animal Classification to increase understanding of WLPA.
Unfortunately most CWLWs are neither having these competencies nor access to manpower with the requisite expertise to handle these areas.
The WLPA Act was enacted in 1972 and it has been amended 6 times in 1983, 1986, 1991, 1993, 2003 and 2006. Also the Wildlife Amendment Bill, 2013 was introduced in the Parliament, but it lapsed in 2014. What also needs to be underscored in the same context is that India is signatory to 13 international conventions like CITES and the Ramsar Convention but domestic law of WLPA is still silent on implementation of the international conventions.
The WLPA has been enacted as a regulatory statute and the point that needs to be visited is that it still provides for shooting blocks and the license for killing wildlife.
The CWLWs are not exercising their powers under Sections 18 to 26 of the WLPA to carry-out right settlement in Protected Areas to secure it for wildlife. The process has not yet started even 46 years after the enactment of the Act.
The CWLWs are empowered under Section 29 to take cognizance of the destruction of wildlife habitat and regulate the inflow and outflow of water into and outflow to PAs. But they are not acting on this front.
The Section-27 and 28 provide for regulation of entry, registration of arm licenses and inoculation of cattle to ward off diseases. There is also almost total inaction in this direction.
The PAs notified before 1991 are finally notified PAs, as there was only one provision of notification before “settlement of rights”. But nothing has been done thereafter.
Also under Section 66(4), all Reserve Forests, where all rights were acquired under Section-4 to 20 of Indian Forest Act, 1927, are finally notified and there are no “rights” in the Reserved Forests of Protected Areas but at the same time, those in knowledgeable circles are asking what has been holding the enforcing authorities from securing this position.
The Amendment Act of 2002 has added a new chapter VI-A to WLPA, consisting of section 58-A to 58-Y, which deals with various aspects of forfeiture of property derived from illegal hunting and trade. Sections-58A to 58Y of WLPA provide for constitution of “Confiscation Tribunal” to confiscate the property of those convicted. But investigation officer, confiscation officer and confiscation tribunal have not been appointed or constituted. [Click here for THE WILD LIFE (PROTECTION) AMENDMENT ACT, 2002]
The conviction rate of wildlife complaints or challans is less than 2%. Besides, Section-58 provides that the “onus of proof” lies on the accused. But this provision was not being used in the prosecution stage.
There was a suggestion for placing “HOLOGRAMS” on wildlife trophies and registration certificates at the time of registration under the Wildlife Stock Declaration Rules, 2003. But it was vociferously opposed. As a consequence, anybody can temper the hammer mark placed on the trophy.
Section-55(c), WLPA provides that if CWLW and Wildlife Wardens do not take action in wildlife crimes. Anybody can provide a notice to CWLW for 60 days under the Wildlife Protection Rules, 1995 and file private complaint with the competent court for initiating the prosecution.
The CWLWs and wildlife wardens need to be asked, who is restraining them from issuing search warrants and punishing rural communities and inhabitants of forest villages under Section-79 and 81 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927.
If we take a close look at these glaring issues -for example, incompetent handling of wildlife administration and technical management coupled with legal infirmities, the impression one gets is that “wildlife management” is controlled by a “mafiosi” that is more interested in promoting wildlife tourism than wildlife protection or forest conservation.
In these circumstances, even the tiger reserves are not being spared and the poachers are striking at will. Due to least resistance, the forest dwellers are able to enter reserved forests and protected areas for grazing purpose and for reckless collection of firewood (both for personal and commercial ends), tendu leaf, mahua, sal seed and other non-timber forest produce.
We have reached this pass despite the fact that The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 is a Central Act that has over-ridding effect on all state Acts. Article-251 and 254 of the Constitution provides that State Assemblies and State Governments cannot take any decision contradicting central Acts [Indian Forest Act, 1927; Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972; and Forest Conservation Act, 1980]. If they take any decision in contravention of Central Acts; such decisions would become null and void.
It should be noted that after transfer of the subjects of “forests and wildlife” with the 42nd Constitution Amendment Act, 1976; the State Governments are hot having Sovereign powers on these subjects.
The Forest Conservation Act, 1980 was enacted to help conserve the country’s forests by strictly restricting and regulating the de-reservation of forests or use of forest land for non-forest purposes without the prior approval of Central Government. For this purpose, the Act lays down the pre-requisites for the diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes.
Contrary to the letter and spirit of the Central Acts, under the Madhya Pradesh Protected Forest Rules enforced in June 2015 by the State Government, the district collectors have been given the powers to attach a Protected Forest to any village. As per the new dispensation, the Collector has been authorised to attach any Protected Forest or a part of it, not lying within any urban area or a Protected Area to a village. Obviously to lend credibility and give the impression that checks and balances are inbuilt in the newly introduced system, it has been specified that the attachment of the Protected Forest will be done by the Collector in consultation with the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) and in accordance with the orders issued by the Government. The State Government has come up with these Rules by suppressing the earlier notification of February 2, 2005 using powers under Section 32 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927.
The Protected Forest Rules mandate that the “Gram Sabha” (village general body) shall constitute a Gram Van Samiti (village forest committee) for the purpose of managing the protected forest attached to that village and the responsibility would include the protection and development of the protected forest. A significant power that has been vested in this committee is that with the approval of the Government, the village forest committees will be able to enter into an agreement with a company or a body corporate, owned, managed and controlled by the Government or engaged in a manufacturing activity for which any forest produce is a raw material, to share any forest produce from that protected forest attached to it as consideration for the investment made by that company or body corporate towards the development of that Protected Forest. [For more on this click here]
At the Government of India level, The Indian Forest (Amendment) Bill, 2017 was passed by both houses of Parliament in December 2017 to exclude bamboo (in non-forest areas) from the definition of tree under the Indian Forest Act to meet the categorically spelled out objective of improving the earnings of tribals and others living around forests. Earlier, in November 2017, the Government had promulgated the Indian Forest (Amendment) Ordinance, 2017 to exempt bamboo grown in non-forest areas from definition of tree, thereby dispensing with the requirement of felling and transit permit for its economic use. [more on the pitfalls of this would be covered in another detailed piece]
Former Madhya Pradesh Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Narmada Valley) R. N. Saxena shared his concern over the prevailing situation and the rapid slide down. He said: “With the infrastructure development, our ecological stability has gone and within 4 to 5 years, the situation will be out of control. The Narmada River has converted into muddy pools at several places. Tapti and Parvati have gone dry. The State of Karnataka is having war with States of Tamil Nadu and Goa. Sal forests are found in 22 States of India – Haryana, Shivaliks, mid-Himalayas, to Tripura and with southern range of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal. These Sal forests are dying without regeneration, more and more forests are not characterised by silviculture but signs of Senescence, and this is having an extreme adverse effect in terms of “climate change”.
Focusing more attention on wildlife, Saxena said: “Because of serious fragmentation of habitat by linear projects like roads, railways, transmission lines, canals etc. the “wildlife home range” has been converted into small isolated groups – where “genetic exchange” is not possible due to “physical and biological barriers”. It is causing “genetic drift”, leading to “population regression”.”
According to Saxena, our Chief Wildlife Wardens (CWLWs) are not carrying-out wildlife population pyramid studies including – sex ratio, individuals in sexually breeding stage, biotic potential factor, decimating factors, net natality of population. Then we have to consider factors of porosity, fragmentation and juxtaposition impact on wildlife population.
The Indian Forest Act, 1927 consolidates the law relating to forests, the transit of forest-produce and the duty leviable on timber and other forest-produce.
Under the Forest Rights Act, till October 2017, about 1.76 million individual titles have been granted over an area of 4.12 million acres of forest land with an average of 2.36 acres of average land per title. Similarly, 64,000 community titles have been distributed over an area of about 9.98 million acres of forest land. Odisha has the distinction of issuing highest number of titles (4,16,531 titles- 4,10, 579 individual and 5, 952 community). Chhattisgarh has the highest forest area (2.45 million acres) over which titles have been given under the Forests Rights Act
According to the Yield Table each acre of forest land for which title has been given under the Forest Rights Act had about 35 to 40 trees, depending upon the Site Quality. One does not need space science to calculate the damage and harm we have caused to the forest ecosystem with one sweep by enacting this Act.
Convicting someone for killing a schedule I wild animal is necessary, but about fixing accountability of those who are failing in their responsibility when it comes to booking, prosecuting and ensuring the conviction of poachers, illegal miners, and the timber mafia, what to talk of those who were instrumental in legitimising the rights of illegal settlers on forest land, thereby causing irreversible damage to the entire forest ecosystem in India.