Great Indian Bustard faces extinction threat

Lack of funds means the central government has made no progress at all in launching a special conservation programme

A file photo of environment minister Prakash Javadekar. Photo: HT
A file photo of environment minister Prakash Javadekar. Photo: HT

New Delhi: Two years after the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) talked about launching a special conservation programme for the Great Indian Bustard (GIB), a critically endangered species, experts are warning that the bird is in danger of becoming extinct. Lack of funds means the central government has made no progress at all on what many say is a critical matter.

The Gujarat government had even submitted a recovery plan to MoEF but it admitted it is sitting on it because it doesn’t have the money to fund the project.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says the GIB is a critically endangered species in India, with no more than 250 of the birds living in states such as Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. Their population has been continuously falling, from around 1,260 in 1969 to 300 in 2008.

Among these states, Rajasthan is estimated to account for the bulk of them with around 175, while others such as Madhya Pradesh are thought to have fewer than 10. Its population is under severe stress due to threats such as habitat loss and degradation and hunting, and experts believe if a focused plan is not implemented soon their remaining population may not survive for long.

Admitting that this issue has been pending for long, a senior official of the environment ministry said, “There is no protection plan for the Great Indian Bustard as of now but a meeting to discuss the issue is expected this month itself”.

The ministry also admits the Gujarat government had submitted a species recovery plan of Rs.187.13 crore for the Great Indian Bustard seeking financial assistance. “The proposal has been examined in the ministry. However, the requisite amount of funds is not available under the centrally sponsored scheme—Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats,” said the environment ministry.

The urgent need to protect the GIB through a national programme was raised in a meeting of the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) in June 2013 by wildlife activist Prerna Singh Bindra.

Led by environment minister Prakash Javadekar, two meetings of the standing committee of NBWL—one in August 2014 and another in January—have been held but in both the meetings the issue of protecting endangered species was postponed.

“It was decided that as these matters required detailed deliberations, it would be appropriate to have a meeting of the Committee exclusively to discuss the matter. It was also decided that an exclusive meeting may be convened in two months which could be for two days,” said the minutes of the NBWL meeting in January 2015.

Ironically, in both the meetings, the Javadekar-headed NBWL standing committee cleared several projects which could affect the habitat of the Great Indian Bustard in spite of the fact that some members specifically warned about the negative impact of such projects.

Bindra, a former member of the NBWL, said: “It’s shocking that the environment ministry has shirked from its responsibility as the custodian of India’s wildlife. Barely 100 Great Indian Bustards survive. The urgency with which we need to act cannot be stressed enough.

“Additionally, the government has clipped the ministry further by shrinking its minuscule budget for wildlife—I believe to a ridiculous Rs.61-odd crore annually. It shocks me that as a nation, we are wilfully letting a bird, endemic to India, go extinct.”

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