The National Board of Wildlife (NBWL), the highest advisory body to the government on wildlife issues, has cleared more industrial projects in and around wildlife habitats in past two years of NDA rule than what its predecessor UPA-II did in its tenure of five years, shows the data compiled by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
While the UPA rejected 11.9% projects due to wildlife concerns, the rejection rate during NDA rule has been less than 0.01%. “Decisions by the board remain more lenient since 2014. Average rejection and also deferrals were much higher during the UPA-II,” said CSE in its analysis of ‘environmental governance in two years of NDA’. The CSE analysis of minutes of the meetings of the standing Committee of the NBWL shows the board approved 301 projects in seven meetings in past two years while during the five years of UPA rule it approved 260 projects in 17 meetings.
Union minister of environment and forests Prakash Javadekar said NBWL under NDA rule has cleared projects of high priority with scientific mitigation measures to reduce the impact on wildlife. “Under UPA the NBWL had not met for 17 months before we took over. There was a huge list of pending projects of high priority that UPA itself had finalised which the NBWL approved in its first meeting under our government. These are all connectivity projects. You should know that the forest land diverted for industry in our two years has been half of what was diverted in UPA’s first two years,” he added.
On a positive note, CSE acknowledged that the NDA government has taken measures to improve pollution standards and monitoring for industrial sectors. The pollution standards for coal-based thermal power plants and other industrial sectors such as iron, steel, cement, pulp and paper, fertilizer, sugar have been made stringent. “The NDA government is focusing on reducing water pollution from industries, which is a very positive step,” CSE said. “The overall trend suggests that green clearances have been made faster through incremental changes ‘easing’ the clearance process. However, there is no evidence that the quality of Environment Impact Assessment reports have improved or enforcement on the ground have become effective,” CSE added.
The issue of wildlife clearance, however, had encountered controversy in the early days of NDA itself. “In its first meeting in August 2014, the NBWL recommended 133 projects. There was only one rejection, and 26 were sent back. The issue became controversial as it was suspected that this large number of recommendations followed the re-constitution of the NBWL that happened just a month earlier. Supreme Court questioned the constitution of the NBWL, and put the projects that were cleared on hold. Following this NBWL was reconstituted in September 11, 2014,” CSE said. For projects coming up in non-wildlife areas, there is no significant departure with respect to environmental clearances granted in NDA rule from the UPA. For forest clearances, the average rate of forestland diversion in fact has reduced under the NDA government, data shows.