Wildlife board not to hear J-K cases now
Wildlife clearances for projects in the protected areas of Jammu and Kashmir will no longer be considered by the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), the standing committee of NBWL has said, clarifying that this is because of the special status granted to the state, although some activists and lawyers believe the body’s clarification is misplaced.
Existing laws, including the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and the Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act, do not provide for consultation of the NBWL for cases related to national parks or sanctuaries in Jammu and Kashmir, the committee said in a report.
According to minutes of the 53rd meeting of the standing committee of NBWL published on March 25, the union environment ministry, through an office memorandum dated May 7, 2018, formed a committee to examine matters related to projects falling within national parks or wildlife sanctuaries of Jammu and Kashmir, projects in conservation reserves or community reserves, and projects falling within the eco-sensitive zone of a protected area. Jammu and Kashmir has 38 conservation reserves, 14 wildlife sanctuaries and five national parks
Supreme Court judgments, such as the landmark case of TN Godavarman vs Union of India, which covers both issues related to wildlife and forests “do not specifically mention the state of Jammu and Kashmir while making no exception...,” the minutes said. The committee has said important cases may be referred to the NBWL by state authorities for advice or consideration but in view of the special provisions for Jammu and Kashmir, NBWL will take the view of the ministry of law before considering any case.
“Till now we would refer all wildlife clearance matters to the NBWL. Recently for two projects pertaining to underground drinking water pipeline and laying of optical fibre cable in Leh and Ladakh were delegated to us (state wildlife department)...,” Sohail Ahmed, technical officer at the Jammu and Kashmir wildlife protection department, said.
The environment ministry’s guidelines for seeking recommendations of the NBWL for activities in protected areas say that activities in conservation reserves should be dealt with by its standing committee.
“These decisions are not pertaining to any specific cases. The ministry had enquired about these issues so the committee has answered them,” said BS Bonal, chairman of the standing committee.
Experts said the impact of this decision will depend on the systems that the state government puts in place to conserve biodiversity and sanctity of protected areas. “...The policies need to be assessed very carefully as Jammu and Kashmir has a very unique biodiversity of Himalayan and trans- Himalayan components,” said Bilal Habib, senior scientist at the Wildlife Institute of India. But Supreme Court advocate, Sanjay Upadhyay said “... in the Centre for Environmental Law vs Union of India case in SC, the apex court on Oct 5, 2015 had held that all matters related to national parks and sanctuaries in all states should go to NBWL. So it’s wrong in law for NBWL to take this decision....”