‘Biodiversity funds hardly spent on its conservation’
An analysis found that only 0.44% of the total assistance given to 8 states has been allocated for establishing Biodiversity Heritage Sites.
A new analysis on State Biodiversity Boards has revealed that funds provided to them by state governments and the Centre are hardly being used for their primary purpose of biodiversity conservation. It has also revealed that funds allocated to states remain meagre compared to what they may require to meet their goals as specified under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2002—conservation and management of biodiversity heritage sites, socio-economic development of areas from where biodiversity is accessed for commercial or other purposes.
The analysis by Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), to be released soon, found only 0.44% of the total assistance cumulatively given to 8 states (states that responded to LIFE’s RTI queries on how funds are used) in the past two years by National Biodiversity Authority has been allocated for establishing Biodiversity Heritage Sites.
There are 40 biodiversity heritage sites in the country currently as per data on NBA’s website. Such Biodiversity Heritage Sites are areas that support unique, ecologically fragile ecosystems -- terrestrial, coastal and inland waters and, marine having rich biodiversity comprising of any one or more of the following components: richness of wild as well as domesticated species or intra-specific categories, high endemism (limited to only 1 location), presence of rare and threatened species, keystone species among others. They also include sacred groves.
Out of the total of 21 responding states, details with respect to financial assistance from NBA were available for 16 states for 2021-22 and for 14 states for 2022-23 respectively through RTI responses.
It was found that, the NBA assistance to states had a very large variation. In 2021-22 it ranged from ₹72 lakhs to as low as 7 lakhs. Haryana received ₹72 lakh from Centre, whereas Uttar Pradesh received lowest, around ₹7 lakhs. Haryana was followed by Kerala, Nagaland, Assam and Punjab in terms of funds received from NBA. Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Chhattisgarh were on the lower side of the assistance from the NBA.
In the following year, (2022-23), the trend remained largely similar based on data till September 2022 through RTI. Haryana again had received the highest allocation from the NBA, ₹47 lakh. Haryana was followed by Uttar Pradesh but Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal were among those that received the lowest of around ₹1 lakh each.
State Biodiversity Board also receive funds from state governments to meet their goals. In 2021-22, the funds provided by states ranged from ₹11 lakh to ₹16 crores. Punjab has allocated only ₹11 lakh, whereas its neighbour, Haryana allocated ₹16 crores. In 2022-23 also, Punjab has the lowest allocation of ₹14.5 lakhs among 14 states that responded, whereas Haryana and Kerala have had allocation of ₹10 crores each.
“Though the Act, or the Rules framed thereunder does not have any specific mandate as to how much assistance NBA will have to provide to any particular state and/or on what basis such amount has to be decided; however, such skewed variation among the states raises concerns,” the report states while adding that NBA may not have considered needs of state biodiversity boards while deciding the amount to be granted to any particular state.
Manipur and Nagaland for example which received ₹5 lakh and ₹6 lakh respectively from the NBA for 2022-23 were not given any funds by their state governments for 2022-23. Interestingly, Haryana has the lowest forest cover in the country at 3.63%. Haryana has faced criticism from environmental activists and experts for dragging its feet on providing legal protection to Aravallis.
The Biodiversity Act 2002 states that the State Biodiversity Fund shall be applied for : the management and conservation of heritage sites; compensating or rehabilitating any section of the people economically affected by the notification ; conservation and promotion of biological resources; socio-economic development of areas from where such biological resources or knowledge associated thereto has been accessed; and meeting the expenses incurred for the purposes authorised by this law.
“All states including Haryana need to focus on using the funds for biodiversity conservation, as mandated in the Act. Instead of weakening protection to biodiversity rich areas, they should see the fund as an opportunity to conserve and streamline use of these funds,” said Kankana Das, Principal Analyst at LIFE’s Kolkata office.
An analysis of the component-wise assistance by the NBA reveals that, highest share of funds is for hiring of contractual and/or outsourced personnel, followed by creation of Biodiversity Management Committees, preparation of People’s Biodiversity Register, developing and revamping of website, celebration of international biodiversity day etc.
HT sought a response from NBA on May 5 on the disparity in allocations by state governments to their respective state biodiversity boards ( ₹11 lakh to ₹16 crore); the utilisation of funds by Haryana, which has among the lowest forest cover in India; and on the adequacy of the allocations for state biodiversity boards to take up biodiversity conservation work such as declaring biodiversity heritage sites.
NBA did not respond to HT’s queries.
“The biodiversity boards are relatively recent environmental institutions. They have the potential to design proactive conservation programs foregrounding village level biodiversity management committees along with regulating disproportionate distribution of profits during commercial access to bioresources. However, for almost two decades role of these boards has remained at the side-lines of the environmental discourse. As the international protocols on climate change, biodiversity and resource rights are converging, biodiversity boards can be an important institution through which decentralized and multi-disciplinary initiatives for biodiversity conservation can be designed and operationalized,” explained Kanchi Kohli, environmental law and policy researcher.
The Biological Diversity Amendment Bill 2021, introduced in Lok Sabha in December 2021, exempts Ayush practitioners from the ambit of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, and facilitates access to biological resources and traditional knowledge by the Indian traditional medicine sector. Legal experts have, however, expressed concerns that easing the norms for the sector could be detrimental to ecology and go against the principle of sharing commercial benefits with indigenous communities.
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