Projects in protected zones to draw 2% surcharge as mitigation measure
The National Board for Wildlife has decided to impose a cost of 2% of the proportionate value of any development or infrastructure project in a protected zone such as a national park or a wildlife sanctuary. The levy of 2% will not be on the entire value of the project but of that part of the project a falling within the said zone, according to the minutes of a key board meeting published on Thursday.
The amount raised will be utilised to mitigate the impact of such projects on ecology and wildlife. The standing committee of the board, chaired by Union environment minister Bhupender Yadav, took up the issue in its 64th meeting held on August 7. The minutes, published on Thursday said that states have been imposing a certain percentage of the project cost for mitigation of the environmental impact. The states/UTs impose costs at different rates.
“The ministry has received requests that the cost imposed should be based on the proportion of the project lying within the protected area or the eco-sensitive zone rather than the total cost of the project. The ministry has also received requests that instead of imposing costs on project proponents, they may be asked to implement mitigation measures,” the minutes said.
R Sukumar, board member and an ecologist specialising in elephants, said during the meeting that the cost for mitigation measures should be 2% of the proportionate cost of projects falling within the protected area. He also suggested that there should be an analysis of the cost imposed and mitigation measures taken in various states.
HS Singh, former principal chief conservator of forests and a member of the board, said if the project proponents are allowed to carry out mitigation measures inside protected areas, it will cause interference in the management of forests. The board finally decided that 2% of the proportionate cost of projects falling inside protected areas and eco-sensitive zones may be imposed in future. This amount is to be spent on mitigation measures within the same protected area.
UD Singh, another board member, said guidelines should be framed for fixing the impact cost of these projects.
”The states were already imposing this cost at different rates. It was arbitrary, so now it has been clarified that 2% will be charged. Also, it means that 2% of the project cost that is falling within the protected area and not 2% of the entire project cost. For example, a pipeline or a road can cover several kilometers, so the cost cannot be imposed on the entire project value. Many states were charging more than 2% of the proportionate project cost,” said a board member who did not wish to be named.
The environment ministry in a letter to all states and UTs on October 28, 2015 advised that 2% of the proportionate project cost falling in protected areas should be imposed by states. This has been referred to in various board meeting minutes but the letter itself is not on the ministry website.
Environmental and legal experts said instead of imposing an arbitrary cost, projects in protected areas should be discouraged as much as possible. The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 states that no person shall “destroy, exploit or remove any wildlife including forest produce from a national park or destroy or damage or divert the habitat of any wild animal by any act whatsoever … except under and in accordance with a permit granted by the Chief WildLife Warden, and no such permit shall be granted unless the State Government is satisfied in consultation with the National Board for Wildlife that such removal of wildlife is necessary for the improvement and better management of wildlife therein”.
Between 2015-16 and 2019-20, 680 projects in protected areas were granted wildlife clearance, the environment ministry informed the Rajya Sabha on September 14 last year.
“The decision to impose a levy of 2% of the project cost for mitigation measures and that too within the same protected area is ecologically and legally flawed. The most basic scientific tenet of ecology is to prevent habitat fragmentation by inclusion of at least 10 times the area sought for diversion. Instead of explaining this to the new minister, the ecologist on the committee has shockingly proposed a 2% levy, while senior forest officers have failed to intervene and highlight the risks involved,” said Praveen Bhargav of the Bengaluru-based Wildlife First, a conservation advocacy group.
“The law mandates that there can be no destruction (by projects) unless it is for the improvement and better management of wildlife. The destruction caused due to habitat fragmentation by a project obviously cannot be mitigated by imposing a 2% levy.”
Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher, Centre for Policy Research, said: “This may or may not have been a practice carried out by different states or the Centre, which has now been rationalised. There are two larger issues to consider. First, this is yet another signal that all land, irrespective of the degree of legal protection, needs to make way for industrial and infrastructure expansion. Second, the financial offsets of such land use change continue to be designed through the sensibility of a few ‘experts’ and without any disclosure of how the calculations were arrived at.”
The standing committee also decided that their meetings would be held once in a month instead of once in three months to minimise delays in assessing projects seeking wildlife clearance.