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Questioned by SC, government fills vacancies on wildlife board

The NDA government has finally nominated the full National Board of Wildlife after it was stung by the Supreme Court questioning the setting up of a truncated panel. The government has claimed nominating only some of the requisite outside experts was a temporary phase which has been rectified now.

Before the truncated board got challenged in the apex court, the board’s standing committee had already cleared almost 130 projects falling within or around tiger reserves, national parks and sanctuaries. But these too the government has defended. Its asked for the case to now be dismissed.

In its affidavit before the court, the environment ministry has stated that only the structure of the full board was detailed in the law and not its standing committee. The full board is headed by the Prime Minister and meets occasionally. The standing committee constituted out of the board is headed by the environment minister, has all the powers of the board and meets more regularly. The standing committee is empowered to review all projects falling inside or within the 10 km range of the protected wildlife areas.

The Wildlife Protection Act, 1976 requires that the full board have 10 outside wildlife and ecology experts besides five non-government expert agencies on the board. Out of this the law requires the government to constitute the standing committee which must have not more than 10 members from the board as its members.

The PMO had filled up only three of the 15 non-government slots on the wildlife board. One of these was a Gujarat government’s agency, another one was a retired Gujarat cadre forest officer and the third an elephant expert on board. All three were put on the standing committee too which cleared more than 130 projects in two days. 

The government has claimed that even if the board was truncated, the standing committee formed out of it met the legal criteria of having less than 10 members.

It’s now nominated four retired government officials on the board. These are VB Sawarkar and PR Sinha, both retired directors from the government’s Wildlife Institute of India, two retired forest officers SS Bist and PS Esa, wildlife researcher RJ Rao from Gwalior, Madan Mohan Pant, an educationist and Rajendra P Kerkar, the founder of the Vivekanda Environment Awareness Brigade in Goa and LavKumar Khachar, an environmentalist from Gujarat. Besides these, the government has
nominated WWF, Bombay Natural History Society, Aranayak and Nature Conservation Society Jharkhand on board too. 

The government has not indicated if it would expand the standing committee of the board to accommodate any of the new members or not.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case filed by Chandra Bhal Singh through the lawyer Sanjay Upadhyay next week.

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