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The experts point to a decision by environment minister Prakash Javadekar to allow the Indian coast guard to install a static radar on Narcondam in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which could further endanger the Narcondam hornbill. Photo: PTI
The experts point to a decision by environment minister Prakash Javadekar to allow the Indian coast guard to install a static radar on Narcondam in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which could further endanger the Narcondam hornbill. Photo: PTI

Experts against haste in green nod for projects

Environmental experts caution against haste in clearing projects, saying environmental decisions, once taken, are sometimes impossible to correct

New Delhi: The reconstitution of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), the advisory body for green clearances to commercial projects located within 10km of protected areas, might seem like a win for wildlife activists in the country. But experts say the lack of adequate representation for activists in the board’s standing committee, scheduled to meet on 12 August, shows that the National Democratic Alliance government does not want any hindrances in clearing projects.

Environmental experts caution against haste in clearing projects, saying environmental decisions, once taken, are sometimes impossible to correct.

The experts point to a decision by environment minister Prakash Javadekar to allow the Indian coast guard to install a static radar on Narcondam in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which could further endanger the Narcondam hornbill. Less than 350 of the birds, found only on this island, remain.

The previous NBWL had recommended against the radar, saying that it would mean near extinction of the bird.

Javadekar said that the project is of strategic importance as China has a presence in the nearby Coco island.

“If China is sitting in front and is doing something and we can’t even monitor, the country cannot run like that. So these kinds of projects, which are of importance to the country’s security, we have started clearing on a priority basis," he had said during an interaction with reporters.

A former NBWL member, who requested anonymity, said that it was unfortunate that there was an aggressive push to weaken scrutiny from civil society, experts and scientists, and undermine the essential checks and balances on projects that threaten endangered wildlife.

“Most projects in sensitive areas are cleared, and only rare projects are rejected. It is well established that protecting ecology has to be integral to development, if it is to be sustainable," the former NBWL member said.

Reiterating the argument that priority must be given to defence and strategic projects, Javadekar had said earlier this month that states have been empowered to give forest clearances for construction of roads in areas affected by Maoist insurgency and for construction and widening of two-lane roads by the Border Roads Organisation and other defence ministry agencies within 100km of the Line of Actual Control, which separates Indian-administered and Chinese-held territory.

The former NBWL member cited above said that making projects on border areas immune from environmental scrutiny will devastate swathes of tiger habitat. “We have seven tiger reserves that are on the border, that runs across international borders. Other critically endangered creatures such as snow leopards, bustards, and red pandas, among others, will also be affected."

Since taking charge in May, the environment minister has also brought the forest and environment clearance approval system online. While businesses have hailed the move, environmentalists say the decision needs to be looked at with caution.

The former NBWL member said that already more than 95% projects get clearances, and this move would be catastrophic for forests and wildlife.

A senior environment ministry official who requested anonymity said that the new board will have two experts who are not a part of the government and a body called Gujarat Ecological Education and Research Foundation. A formal notification of the board is yet to be made.

The term of the last board expired on 5 September 2013. The board, headed by the Prime Minister, had 47 members. While 32 of these were serving or retired government officials, the rest were members of organizations that work in the area of conservation, such as the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Nature Conservation Foundation and some independent conservationists.

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