Sunday, 2 October 2011

Letter to Minister, E and F


Smt Jayanthi Natarajan  

The Minister of State (Independent Charge)

Ministry of Environment and Forests 

Government of India

Date: 25th September,2011

Hon’ble Minister,

Re: National Board of Wildlife

We, the non-official members of the National Board of Wildlife would like to begin by congratulating you on assuming charge of the Ministry.

As you are aware the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL), under your chairmanship, is an important statutory body under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, for the purpose of conservation of wildlife in the country.  Section 5C of the Act provides that it shall be the duty of the NBWL to promote the conservation and development of wildlife and forests by such measures as it thinks fit. Since the powers and functions of NBWL have been delegated to the Standing Committee, for all practical purposes, the Standing Committee has, therefore, been entrusted with the powers and duties of the NBWL.

As Chair of the Standing Committee, we would respectfully like to draw your attention to some serious concerns regarding the mandate and functioning of the board: 

Standing Committee decision making is flawed:  

Protected Areas are the last refuges of many endangered and endemic species, and of our biodiversity, and as we well know they are already stressed and fragmented.   Many of the proposals require clearances that adversely impact these habitats, thereby further endangering wildlife. Yet, the usual practice is to place a large number of proposals -including large projects like dams, highways, mines - in a single meeting of the Standing Committee, and its members are expected to decide their fate in the space of just an hour or two.

Unfortunately, during the recent past, the role of the Standing Committee has been merely limited to that of a clearing-house. The last meeting of the Committee held on 25th April 2011 is a striking example of this, where 59 proposals for diversion from PAs or areas adjoining PAs were considered and most of them, barring a few, were cleared in just a short span of two hours. This has caused immense concern amongst the non-official members and invited criticism, even from the media.

Yet another fact of the same meeting was that 39 clearance proposals were received only two days prior to the meeting leaving very little time, and no working day, for the members to even glance through the proposals. Even more so, the information provided by the states was incomplete, misleading and attuned for fast track clearances.

Such practices make a mockery of the role of the Standing Committee of the NBWL. Clearing or rejecting such a large number of proposals in such a short time span also signifies a lack of proper consideration and can lead to legal complications in case any decisions of the Standing Committee are challenged in courts.

While the Standing Committee of NBWL cannot do away with discussing the various developmental projects seeking diversion of Protected Areas, there should always be adequate time devoted during every meeting of the Standing Committee for discussing wildlife conservation issues and policy matters that require urgent attention. It has been seen in the last few meetings that the prime focus is on clearances within and around PAs, while conservation issues and agenda items of the members get short shift as they are always deferred for ‘next time’.  

Late, incomplete information, and misinformation:

The agenda items are usually sent to the members late, sometimes just a day or two before the meeting. As pointed out in a previous communication, the notification of the Standing Committee states that, “The Member-Secretary shall prepare agenda items for the meeting, obtain approval of the Chairman and circulate it to all members at least fifteen days prior to the date of such meeting.

The information given is rudimentary, poorly drafted and the maps of poor quality. Many times the information given is deliberately incomplete and the Committee is also misinformed. To cite just three examples:

1.   Proposal for setting up a captive thermal power plant (4x60MW) with 1 MTPA cement grinding unit and 1 MTPA coal washery unit within 1.5 kms from the boundary of Kaimur Wildlife Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh in the 21st meeting of the Standing Committee, January 24th, 2011: it came to our notice that the state government deliberately misled the Standing Committee of the NBWL by not informing that the matter was subjudice before the Honourable Supreme Court. The state and the MoEF failed to mention the fact that gross violations of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 had taken place, which in fact was pointed out by the regional office (northern region) of the MoEF. Also, the fact that the matter was sub judice and that construction had already begun in full swing, even though the clearance was yet to be obtained, was withheld from the NBWL. Responsibility has to be fixed both on state/MOEF officials in order to prevent its recurrence.

2.   Proposal for diversion of 124.054 ha of forestland from Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary for construction of Kol Dam Project, Himachal Pradesh, in the 20th meeting of the Standing committee on October 13th, 2010:  The Chief Wildlife Warden had stated that no trees would be felled in the execution of the project. But this was wrong information. The CEC letter dated 04.10.2006 to the Chief Secretary, Government of HP had sought clarification on the number of trees to be felled, and the state government in its reply had stated that about 51,262 trees would be under the submergence area. Responsibility has to be fixed both on state/MOEF officials in order to prevent its recurrence.

3.   Proposal for diversion of 16.09 ha of forest land from Keladevi Wildlife Sanctuary for Dohari Minor Irrigation Project by Water Resource Department, Distt. Karauli, Rajasthan, brought up in the 22nd meeting of the Standing Committee held on April 25th, 2011: The state government withheld the critical fact that this is part of the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve and even denied the same in the course of the April 25th meeting.  Responsibility has to be fixed both on state/MOEF officials in order to prevent its recurrence.

In spite of repeated requests, the agenda is not circulated to all National Board of Wildlife Members or put up on the website (this was discussed in the 21st meeting and approved by the Chair) to avail of the expertise of the wider conservation and scientific community.

In view of such facts, we suggest the following:

§        The agenda should reach us at least two weeks before the meeting as mandated by the notification of the Standing Committee, and should be copied to all members of the NBWL. This should include maps, surveys, Google maps etc. At present, we usually receive the complete agenda (with detailed information including maps, etc) just a day or so before the meeting as if that factual information provided should be substantial enough for rational decision-making.   It is also suggested that the proforma of the Forest Advisory Committee be made applicable to the proforma for Standing Committee meetings.

§        Each project proposal/plea for clearance must be presented to the Standing Committee with the Environmental Impact Analysis Report, the Forest Clearance details and the Project Report. The documents should be accompanied by the minutes of the meeting of the Environmental Appraisal Committee / Forest Advisory Committee concerning the project, together with any letter of clearance given. 

§        Full compliance with the Right to Information Act, 2005, particularly section 4 (1) (c) since the MOEF is not disclosing the relevant background material under which decisions were taken for clearing projects in/and around PAs. They also have to disclose the names of the officers who took part in the decision making process. This will ensure full transparency and accountability since the public as well as project proponents  would know the reasons why a particular project was cleared or rejected and who decided this.

§        Agenda items once rejected by the Standing Committee should not be brought back for discussion and clearance unless there is a court order to the contrary. This wastes the time of the Committee and undermines the authority of the Committee’s decisions.

§        There should be a proper mechanism for monitoring the conditions imposed while recommending the project proposals. An independent monitoring committee may be set up under each regional office of the MOEF.      

As per the notification, the committee’s mandate calls for promotion and conservation of wildlife, advising state governments on conservation, effective control of wildlife trade, recommendations in setting up PAs, advising on and control of activities in PAs. Most of us are doing this in an individual capacity but as a collective body our role frankly is minimal. The role of the NBWL is even less so, given that meetings are held about once a year, if that. The last full meeting of the NBWL was held in March, 2010 and more than a year has elapsed.

We are sorry to say that in the current scenario, the Standing Committee of the NBWL has been reduced to a clearing house.  Project clearances are part of the mandate of the Standing Committee, one of the duties and functions, certainly not the objective, nor its raison d’ĂȘtre.

We request you to please take note of our concerns and issue appropriate directions to ensure that the NBWL can fulfill its mandate properly and effectively.

A hard copy of this letter is being sent separately.

Yours sincerely,

1. Mr. Biswajit Mohanty,Wildlife Society of Orissa

2. Dr. Asad Rahmani, Bombay Natural History Society

3. Mr.Kishore Rithe, Satpuda Foundation

4. Mr. T.R. Shankar Raman, Nature Conservation Foundation

5. Dr. Bivabh Talukdar, Aranyaak

6. Dr. M.K.Ranjit Sinh

7. Dr. Divyabhanusinh Chavda

8. Mr. Brijendra Singh

9.  Mr. Valmik Thapar

10. Ms. Prerna Bindra

11. Mr. Bittu Sehgal

12. Ms. Mitali Kakkar

13. Dr. Uma Ramakrishnan

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Dr. Divyahanusinh Chavda's note

“This is with reference to the last meeting of the Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL). I want to bring to your attention the following:

1. a.  While the agenda was circulated by email the hard copy with the maps was delivered to my house on Sunday, 24th April at Jaipur when I had already left for Delhi. 

b. Additional items in the agenda were presented at the meeting itself.

2. In view of the above, I was unable to fully prepare for the meeting as I would have liked to do.

3. With regard to Parvan major irrigation project in Rajasthan, please record that I had pointed out at the meeting that nearly 2 lac trees need to be inundated/chopped for the purpose. Though I did not mention it then, I feel very strongly that proper EIA of the project must be done.

4. I would request you to kindly arrange to send the agenda well in time with maps so that one can be prepared for the discussion and contribute effectively.”

Dr.M.K.Ranjithsinh's Dissent Note to MoEF

Dear Smt. Prakriti Srivastava,

You would recollect that during the course of the 22nd meeting of the Standing Committee on 25.04.2011 during which some fifty proposals were hurriedly discussed and most approved, I had said that I would like my dissent / observations to be recorded in the minutes and the Chairman had agreed that it would be done.  I am therefore, sending my dissent / observations,  as follows:

1.  As was mentioned in the meeting itself by some members, the agenda items must be sent well in advance and that in future additional agenda items must not be given in the meeting for the first time.  Unlike in the past, maps are now being provided with the proposals but not in all cases.  However, crucial information such as the opinion of the state wildlife advisory boards without which the Standing Committee cannot consider the proposals, must be clearly stated in the project format prepared for each proposal.  It was noticed that in a number of cases, especially in the case of Madhya Pradesh, the number of trees to be felled was simply not given.  This is a very important requirement and proposals which lack this data should not be considered.

2.  There was far little time allotted for the meeting with the agenda that it had, as a result of which items on conservation suggested by the members were not discussed.  This has frequently occurred in the past.  In view of the very infrequent meetings of the full NBWL, the Standing Committee is the only fora where conservation issues can be raised by the members and if even this opportunity is denied, then the Standing Committee would only be a project clearance committee and nothing more.  The matter could be resolved by having  longer duration meetings and more frequent meetings, which the Chairman has acknowledged and agreed to.

Apart from these general observations above, I would like to make some specific mention in relation with certain agenda items;

A)  The Parvan major irrigation project, Rajasthan, which will submerge 81.67 of the Shergarh Wildlife Sanctuary and what is more, will result in the destruction of approximately 186443 trees, in a tree deficit state like Rajasthan. Furthermore, even though 25cusecs of water is proposed to be continuously released into the Chambal from the proposed dam, this project will result in a major diversion of water from the Chambal, which has already been identified as deficient in water flow to support the last viable populations of the endangered Gharial and the Dolphin, in the April 2011 report prepared by the Wildlife Institute of India at the instance of the MoEF.  The report specifically recommends that no further diversion of water from the Chambal should take place if the future survival of the endangered aquatic species  mentioned above, is to be secured.  There is also no EIA of the project, with regard to the impact upon the aquatic life and ecology of the downstream Jawahar Sagar Sanctuary, Rana Pratap Sagar Sanctuary  and the National Chambal Sanctuary.

In view of the above, the undersigned would wish to record his dissent to the approval given to the above project.

B)  Items 2[4(2)] : Construction of fencing and patrol road along the Indo-Bangladesh Border in Damp Tiger Reserve, Mizoram; 4.1(3) denotification of Trikuta Wildlife Sanctuary, Jammu and Kashmir, and others : The Standing Committee has always followed the norm that where a substantial portion of a national  park or sanctuary is to be denotified, it would have to be compensated by having at least an equivalent area added elsewhere to the same protected area and if this be not possible, by the creation of another PA or by addition to an existing PA within the state.  An excellent example was Himachal Pradesh, where an additional area larger in size was notified and only thereafter the MoEF, on the recommendation of the Standing Committee, gave permission for the denotification of various parts of PA's in the state.  I would like to very emphatically reiterate, as I mentioned in the meeting itself, that this practice must continue, for otherwise the Standing Committee and hence the NBWL, would only be party to the reduction of the PA's with no areas ever to be added in the future, which cannot be the mandate of these two august bodies, especially in view of the fact that, as we all know, the only hope for the long term survival of India's natural heritage lies in our protected area system.

I would like this dissent note / observation to be recorded in both the above mentioned items where a total denotification of the Trikuta Sanctuary in Kashmir and a large scale secession of the Dampa Tiger Reserve, are envisaged.  Would also wish to mention that the alternate notification adding to a PA or creating a new one to compensate for the denotification of any PA, must precede the propose denotification, as was done in the case of Himachal Pradesh.

These may kindly be incorporated at the appropriate places in the minutes of the meeting.



Dissent note on St. Com Meeting, April 26, 2011

April 26, 2011

Re:  Dissent Note on proceedings of the Standing Committee Meeting of the National Board for Wildlife on 25 April 2011

Due to the hurried manner in which the proceedings of the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) were conducted on 25 April 2011, we would like to put our dissent note on a number of the decisions taken during the meeting, and request that these be put on record.

The Ministry’s 14 September 2010 Notification constituting the Standing Committee states that The Member-Secretary shall prepare agenda items for the meetings, obtain approval of the Chairperson and circulate it to all members at least fifteen days prior to the date of such meeting.” In view of the above, we dissent from the decisions taken by the Committee on the additional agenda items that were sent to the members on the night of Friday, 22 April 2011, giving us not a single working day before the meeting, and no time to review and assess the items for an informed decision making process.

The decision-making process of the NBWL is hampered by the fact that maps, FAC clearances, EIA reports, etc., for all agenda items usually reach the members a day or so before the meeting, a fact repeatedly pointed out by the members. It is important that members should be able to assess the proposals and the likely impacts they will have on PAs and wildlife.

Prerna Singh Bindra
Member, Standing Committee, National Board of Wildlife

Dr Koustubh Sharma
NCF, Mysore
Member, Standing Committee, National Board of Wildlife

Prerna Bindra's dissent note on approvals, April 26, 2011

I request that my dissent note be recorded on the following proposals taken up before the Standing Committee meeting on April 25th, 2011:

On the minutes of  21st meeting of the Standing committee on January 24th  2011
4.1(13)  Diversion of 3.9892 ha of forest land in Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary for widening of existing 2 lane of NH-24 to 4 lane road from KM 86.00 to KM 93 in Ghaziabad District, Uttar Pradesh.
It was pointed out by Ms Prerna Bindra that the area of Hastinapur sanctuary is 2079 sq km. The sanctuary has huge human habitation; there are villages, highways etc,  and huge tracts  have been degraded and fragmented and are known to have become of little  value to wildlife. But crucially, there are still pockets which are of immense biodiversity value, with swamp deer, leopard, jungle cat, sarus cranes, Gangetic dolphins which must not be compromised. It will be prudent to have a site visit to understand which part of the sanctuary this and other proposals pertaining to Hastinapur sanctuary is being impacted by the proposals put before the committee,  on the basis of which an informed decision can be made. It was assured that the area in question was not of value to wildlife, but to be on the side of caution it was agreed that a site inspection be made and after ascertaining the facts, due permission may be given subject to the following.
During the April 25th meeting, it was pointed out that clearance for the above proposal was given unconditionally during the January 24th meeting. However, I would like to place on record my dissent to a blanket clearance without verifying the area’s value in terms of wildlife/biodiversity, as specified above.

Main Agenda Items of the meeting of April 25th 2011
2[4.2(4)]: Diversion of 7.2871 ha of forest land for construction of Ropeway from Bhavnath Taleti to Ambaji Temple in Girnar Wildlife Sanctuary by Usha Breco Ltd, Ahmedabad, Gujarat.  
The ropeway will pass through  a known breeding site of the long billed vulture (69 vultures in 2010, an increase from the last count of 41, suggesting an increase in numbers, as against a massive decline in the state, and indeed India.)
The report by Shri Divyabhanusinh and Dr Nita Shah placed before the committee on January 24th clearly states that the ropeway, if constructed, would lead to the local extinction of the long-billed vulture Gyps indicus in North Gujarat.  The critically endangered long billed vulture has seen a collapse of nearly 99% of its population, and is categorised as Critically Endangered. Ironically, the vulture is part of MoEF’s species recovery programme.
I record my dissent on the committee’s decision to clear the above proposal.

2[4(B)(12)]Proposal for denotification of forest area of Radhanagri Sanctuary for Savarde minor irrigation project.
I record my dissent on this clearance given the harmful ecological impacts, which were also discussed in the meeting. It is understood that the area to be submerged is under very good forest cover which will be destroyed irreplaceably.

2[4.1 (17)] Diversion of 0.205 ha of forest land from Fambonglho Wildlife Sanctuary for construction of Sang Naya Bazar water supply scheme from Lalichok to Sang in East Sikkim.
2[4.1 (18)] Diversion of 1.9718 ha of forest land from Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary for construction of water supply scheme from Mithuney to Rhenock in (South) Sikkim.
2[4.1 (19)] Diversion of 0.50 ha of forest land from Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary for construction of water supply scheme from Jelep la stream to Kupup in (North) Sikkim.
The decision is to allow for all three proposals, as recommended by Dr A.J.T. Johnsingh, and with  the conditions imposed as in the report submitted by Prerna Singh Bindra.
I record my dissent on the decision to allow for 2[4.1 (18)], and request that my report of the site visit be placed on record.

4.1 (6) Permission for 330 MW Dholpur Gas based combined cycle thermal power project stage-II drawing water from National Chambal Ghariyal Sanctuary at Dholpur, Rajasthan
The Chambal river harbours 85 per cent of the entire population of the critically endangered gharial and a high density of the national aquatic animal, the Gangetic dolphin per river km. The ‘Assessment of minimum water flow requirements of Chambal River in the context of Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) and Gangetic Dolphin (Platanista gangetica) conservation’ conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India categorically states that any further withdrawl of water from Chambal river will seriously affect the gharial, the wildlife and other ecosystem service values of the river. 
I record my dissent on the decision to give permission for the above proposal

Setting up of Jaypee Super Cement Plant from Clinker production 2.01 MTPA to 2.50 MTPA, 2.1 km from Kaimur Wildlife Sanctuary
My report on the above proposal may be put on record.

Proposal for denotification of entire area of Trikuta Wildlife Sanctuary (31.40 Sq. Kms), Jammu and Kashmir
This denotification sets up a very bad precedent of denotifying entire sanctuaries.
It has been decided this in lieu of the denotification another PA should be declared. As pointed out by Dr MK Ranjitsinh, such a site - double the area of the current notification - should be identified with a proper biodiversity survey,  and put before the Board and first notified as a PA before any denotification of Trikuta Wildlife Sanctuary.

Proposal for diversion of 7.005 ha of protected land from Compartment No.5 of  Bahu Conservation Reserve in favour of Revenue Department for  leasing to the Army, in lieu of the Army land acquired by the Revenue Department.
 The agreement and assurance of transferring revenue land to the army was made by the revenue department, and from the information given there seems to be no role of the forest department while giving this assurance. It was the revenue department which acquired the army land. In such circumstances it would be highly inappropriate for a Protected Area to be diverted; it will set a wrong precedent that part of a Conservation Reserve is diverted in order the meet assurances given by the revenue department.

Proposal for setting up Captive Thermal Power Plant (4x60MW) with 1 MTPA Cement Grinding Unit and 1 MTPA Coal Washery by M/s. J.P. Associates Pvt. Ltd. , 1.5 Kms from boundary of Kaimur Wildlife Sanctuary
The report for the site visit  for M/s Jaypee Super Cement Plant from clinker production 2.01 MTPA to 2.50 MTPA in Kaimur Wildlife Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh (for which my report has been submitted) records that the JP Associates flouted the Forest Conservation Act and ignored the directions of the honourable Apex court, the  directions of  the CEC and the directions of the regional office (Central) of the MoEF.
It came to our notice that construction has already began for the Captive Thermal Power Plant (4x60MW) with 1 MTPA Cement Grinding Unit and 1 MTPA Coal Washery, again without the mandatory clearance.  A clarification and information has been sought from the concerned DFO.  Also in light of the fact that a related matter of the JP Super Cement plant  is subjudice (with information concealed from the  Standing Committee at the time of submitting the proposal), it is judicious that this proposal be very carefully examined, before any decision is taken.

Prerna Singh Bindra
Member, Standing Committee, National Board of Wildlife
April 26, 2011