Conservation on the back seat: One year of U’khand forest minister was dedicated to controversies and baby steps
For a state, which has nearly half its landmass under forest cover, Uttarakhand, with a dedicated ministry to look after the forests, has not much to write home about so far as conservation efforts are concerneddehradun Updated: Mar 16, 2018 22:41 IST
For a state, which has nearly half its landmass under forest cover, Uttarakhand, with a dedicated ministry to look after the forests, has not much to write home about so far as conservation efforts are concerned.
The department has more often than not remained embroiled in controversies, sometimes over the sluggish pace of work, sometimes over allegations against Harak Singh Rawat, the minister in charge, and mostly for lack of decisions. As per official records, Rawat hasn’t taken a single decision in the name of conservation.
As per the national estimation of Forest Survey of India (FSI), Uttarakhand has witnessed a marginal a marginal increase of 23 sq km forest cover. The latest FSI report of 2017 has reported the total forest cover in the state at 24,295 sq km. The revised assessment of 2015 survey had reported 24,272 sq km forest cover.
The forest cover, as per 2017 report, is just over 45% of Uttarakhand total area of 53,843 sqkm.
No State Board for Wildlife meeting
One of the key responsibilities of a forest minister is to ensure timely constitution of State Board for Wildlife (SBWL) and ensure that it meets regularly. As per the guidelines, the board should meet at least once in a year. It was only after great efforts that the board could be constituted. The board, however, is yet to hold a meeting.
The board is instrumental in giving clearances to developmental projects, conservation steps, and other important decisions for the protection of the ecosystem.
“Had conservation been the government’s mandate, then they would have constituted the board and have had at least one meeting,” said Rajeev Mehta, former wildlife warden, Rajaji Tiger Reserve.
The board is headed by the chief minister and has among its members several non-government organizations and independent experts. The last board meeting was chaired by former CM Harish Rawat on November 7, 2016.
Nandhaur and Surai
Days before Trivendra Singh Rawat formed government, state’s chief wildlife warden, Digvijay Singh Khati, had said that work was on to convert a wildlife sanctuary and a forest range into tiger reserves. The Nandhaur Wildlife Sanctuary and the Surai Range are the two proposed tiger reserves — the first falls under the Terai Arc Landscape spanning across India and Nepal and the second in the Terai East division.
When Harak Singh Rawat was took charge as forest minister after government’s formation on March 18, it was expected that he will push for early formation of the two tiger reserves. Uttarakhand has two tiger reserves – the Corbett Tiger Reserve and the Rajaji Tiger Reserve — and with the formation of the other two, the mountain state would become the first in North India to have four tiger reserves. For a state that has the second highest tiger population in the country — 340 as per the 2015 tiger census — it would have been a great boost in terms of tourism and revenue potential. Officials claim that the Nandhaur sanctuary, notified in 2012, has over 40 tigers, and Surai range has 12.
Officials claim that the Nandhaur sanctuary, notified in 2012, has over 40 tigers, and Surai range has 12.
“It’s been three years since we mooted the idea (to NTCA) for having two more tiger reserves. The state government has to take a final call, and we are already in process of looping in concerned legislators whose constituencies are close to the proposed reserves,” Khati had recently said.
The new reserves will be notified after the state wildlife board gives its approval. The board, as mentioned, is yet to meet.
Forest guard recruitment
A minister, Harak Singh Rawat Rawat, however, has one major decision to his credit —amendment in service rules for guards and foresters. Rawat also cancelled the appointments made against 1218 forest guard positions.
During a cabinet meeting on March 12, the government approved the changes in the service rules. As per the decision, a person who has done intermediate in any stream is eligible for the post of the guard. The minimum age was raised to 28.
Currently, 2,600 guards are working against sanctioned strength of 3,650.
Meanwhile, changes have also been in rules pertaining to employment of foresters. Earlier, 100 per cent positions of foresters were filled on promotion basis. Now, 33% post would be filled through direct recruitment and 67% on promotion basis. Only those who have done intermediate with science stream or agriculture as a subject are eligible for the post.
The forest guards are, however, sore over direct recruitment of foresters.
“The promotion rules are extremely tough and only those who have completed 10 years as guards will be promoted as forester. But, direct recruitment is a blow to the field staff, which should be immediately cancelled,” RR Penuilly, member of forest guard association, said.
Harak Singh Rawat is personally monitoring CM Rawat’s flagship project Kandi Road. He dropped Surendra Mehra, director Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR) from the project and deployed Anup Mallik, who heads Ecotourism Development Corporation, as the nodal officer. He also took several meeting to understand the technicalities of the project that envisages construction of a road passing through Corbett’s boundary adjoining Amangarh in Uttar Pradesh. Amangarh acts as a buffer zone for the reserve. Of the total 88 km stretch of the road, 22 km passes through the reserve of which 10 km passes through a patch with thick forest on either side of the reserve.
Not to leave any stone unturned, the minister has engaged Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and is promoting the road as country’ first Green Road. The institute would be assisting the officers in understanding the gradient of the roads and identify places of wildlife movement so that mitigation could be done.
The curious case of an official
Rawat and school education minister had been at loggerheads over the deployment of a block education officer in the labour department, also headed by Harak singh Rawat. School education secretary Bhupinder Kaur, however, refused to issue a no-objection certificate (NOC) required for designating the said woman official as an assistant executive officer with the labour welfare board.
Insiders claim that Rawat had first pursued the case with the school education department. Subsequently, school education minister Arvind Pandey consulted the CM, who was also against granting the NOC request. Soon after the meeting, Kaur wrote to the labour department expressing inability to relieve the officer.
“The school education department is already short of staff and deputation would mean the loss of another officer for no reason,” a senior official with school education department said requesting anonymity.