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Home / India News / In process of amending wildlife act: Centre

In process of amending wildlife act: Centre

Addressing other contentious issues during this monsoon session, the ministry said the Char Dham road project is not under its purview and that the draft environment impact assessment notification, 2020, removes existing redundancies.

india Updated: Sep 20, 2020, 23:59 IST
Jayashree Nandi
Jayashree Nandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The Wildlife Protection Act was last amended in 2003.
The Wildlife Protection Act was last amended in 2003. (AP)

The Union environment ministry has informed Parliament that it is in the process of amending the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, after a review committee submitted a report to the ministry, suggesting several revisions to the Act, introducing tougher penalties for breaches of the legislation.

Addressing other contentious issues during this monsoon session, the ministry said the Char Dham road project is not under its purview and that the draft environment impact assessment notification, 2020, removes existing redundancies.

The Wildlife Protection Act was last amended in 2003. “The environment ministry had constituted a Committee for drafting the amendments to the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 on May 1 2018, which has submitted its report. The drafting Committee has proposed a comprehensive review of various provisions of the Act,” the ministry said on September 15.

Amendments likely to be made include a larger role for eco-development committees which are joint committees of the forest department and local people living in the fringes of protected areas.

“Apart from involving more local people in conservation and stricter penalties, the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) clauses will be introduced in the act,” a senior ministry official told HT on condition of anonymity.

CITES is an international treaty that protects over 35,000 species.

The environment ministry on Saturday also told Parliament that the 900 km Char Dham road project to connect four Hindu pilgrimage sites in Uttarakhand has not been referred to it for appraisal. The project does not need to be appraised by the ministry although it entails the loss of trees and ecological damage to the fragile Himalayas.

The ministry cited an August 2013 notification exempting all projects related to the expansion of national highways up to 100 km from the purview of the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006. The exemption was granted on the recommendation of a high-level committee constituted to review the provisions in the notification related to environmental clearance for roads, buildings, and special economic zone projects.

“In view of the... thresholds applicable to roads in Char Dham projects, no project has been referred to the MoEFCC {Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change} for appraisal,” the ministry told Rajya Sabha.

India needs move away from a a “hyper-legal and technocratic approach” to protecting the environment, a legal expert said.

“Environment regulation requires a much more reflexive approach and not a defensive one. The approval of the Char Dham project is yet another case in point when poorly thought out and hasty decisions have resulted in severe and irreversible damage. Acknowledging it will not just help taking project-specific remedial action, but also allow us to bring back progressive legal measures that may have been undone through numerous exemptions introduced by successive governments,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher, Centre for Policy Research.

Forest diversion

According to the environment ministry, forest land larger than Delhi and slightly smaller than Goa has been approved for non-forestry purposes like mining, irrigation, and hydropower from 2008 and 2020.

It said 247,843.49 hectares of forest land has been approved for diversion under the Forest Conservation Act. The ministry added that certificates of compliance with the Act for diversion of forest land are obtained from district collectors. It added the proposals for such diversions have been placed before concerned village councils and forest-dwellers.

On whether the contentious draft environment impact assessment rules dilute existing norms and deprive local residents the opportunity of public consultations on the impact of projects on their environment, the ministry on September 18 informedParliament that draft seeks to remove redundancies and encourage modernization.

It brings defaulters into the environmental regime with requisite action, penalty and remediation; and introduces standardization and technology-driven processes, the ministry said.

Based on the nature of the project, public consultation through any other appropriate mode, such as the electronic or virtual mode will also be allowed now. Physical hearings will also continue to exist, the ministry said. The ministry had received around 1.7 million letters and emails with suggestions, comments, and objections to the draft EIA notification.

Environmental groups had opposed it citing clauses including one that allows regularisation of projects set up in violation of EIA Notification, 2006, by starting construction before receiving environmental clearance; exempting certain projects from public hearings and so on.

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