National Board for Wild Life not to hear J&K cases

Decision may affect projects initiated in protected areas

Gopal Sharma
JAMMU, Apr 14: The National Board for Wild Life (NBWL) will not consider the projects being taken up in protected areas from the Jammu and Kashmir State for the Wildlife clearances as the Standing Committee of NBWL has clarified that it would no longer consider the cases from J&K because of the special status granted to the State.
Official sources told the Excelsior that existing laws, including the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and the Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act do not provide for consultation of the NBWL for the cases related to national parks or wildlife sanctuaries in the J&K State. This has been mentioned by the Standing Committee in its recently published report. The decision may have impact on some important projects initiated in the protected areas in the State.
The sources further revealed that according to the minutes of the 53rd meeting of the Standing Committee of National Board for Wild Life released recently, the Union Environment Ministry through an office memorandum dated May 7, 2018, constituted a committee to examine matters related to projects falling within national parks or wildlife sanctuaries of the Jammu and Kashmir State, projects in conservation reserves or community reserves and projects falling within the eco-sensitive zone of protected area.
It is pertinent to mention here that J&K has 38 conservation reserves , 14 wildlife sanctuaries and five national parks. A defence road in Changthang protected area of Ladakh and a Hydel project in Kishtwar Wild Life Sanctuary area are the examples of clearance of projects from the NBWL in the recent past. Now, National Green Tribunal under the direct supervision of Supreme Court has been assigned the task of important decisions with regard to clearance for such projects so that biodiversity and wildlife is well protected.
“Supreme Court judgments, such as landmark case of TN Godavarman vs Union of India, which covers both issues related to wildlife and forests do not specifically mention the State of Jammu and Kashmir while making no exception,” the minutes of the meeting said.
The Committee has, however, said that important cases may be referred to the NBWL by State authorities for advice or consideration but in view of the special provisions for Jammu and Kashmir, NBWL will take the view of the Union Ministry of Law before considering any case. It indicates that till the clearance from the Union Law Ministry, the NBWL will not consider cases from Jammu and Kashmir.
Chief Wild Life Warden, J&K, Suresh Kumar Gupta when contacted said that the Union Environment Ministry guidelines for seeking recommendations of the National Board for Wild Life say that activities in conservation reserves should be dealt with by its Standing Committee. Till now, the State Wild Life Board was sending the cases like roads, irrigation, water supply, hydel power projects etc to the NBWL. Even recently a few projects related to laying of Optical fibre cable on Srinagar-Leh highway, Lift irrigation Scheme in Tral (Kashmir) and a Hydel power project in Kishtwar were accorded clearance by the NBWL.
Responding to a question Chief Wild Life Warden said, “We have own Wild Life Act in the State and our own Board which is competent enough to take decisions with regard to such projects to be taken up in protected areas of the State. But even then, the State Wild Life Board and the Forest and Wild Life Department has been sending the cases to the NBWL for the expert opinion and guidance. After clearance by the National Board the cases are given final green nod by the Supreme Court of India. No any such project in the protected area can be taken up until it has been set by the Apex Court,” Gupta maintained.
He claimed that there will be no much impact of the decision on the projects in J&K. The matter has been taken up at the higher level. The NBWL is waiting for the opinion from the Union Law Ministry. We are hopeful that NBWL will consider the cases from the J&K. They have highly professional and experts with them who can guide and give their valuable opinion about conservation and protection of Wild Life Parks/ Sanctuaries in the State.
An expert in the field and former IFS officer, Dr CM Seth when contacted said that the impact of this decision of the NBWL will depend on the system that the State Government puts in place to conserve bio-diversity and maintain sanctity of protected areas. He said Jammu and Kashmir has very unique biodiversity of Himalayan and Trans-Himalayan components. There must be full control of the National Board for Wild Life on the projects undertaken in the State in the protected areas like Wildlife Reserves/ National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries etc.
Seth said any popular State government for vested political interests can give nod for any project of its interest setting aside much care for the protection of biodiversity/ wildlife. The Chief Minister is said to be the chairman of the State Wild Life Board, no member would dare to oppose his decision. It happened when State Wild Life Board gave green nod to Mughal Road project under political considerations without caring for the wild life in the Heerpur Wild Life Sanctuary In Pir Panchal Range.
A leading environmentalist filed a PIL in the Supreme Court and the NBWL taking serious note of the issue, stalled the work. So, after long contest and follow up, the project was cleared by the NBWL and Apex Court with several riders, guidelines and directions. The reason being, there were very limited number of highly endangered species left in that Sanctuary.
Seth said this order, which still needs some clarification, would affect the projects in the State. It has already been mentioned that matter has been referred to the Union Law Ministry. An appropriate decision is expected from the Law Ministry. He said it is must for the protection of bio-diversity and wild life in the J&K State to have the control of the NBWL and expertise advice/ opinion from the National Board otherwise, things would go worst in the State.