Alarmed at Wildlife Board Rejig, Green Activists Demand PM's Intervention

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The Centre's move violates the Wildlife Protection Act, say environmentalists.

New Delhi:  The National Board for Wildlife or NBWL will become virtually 'toothless' after its unprecedented reconstitution by the new government, fear some environmentalists.

In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they have sought his intervention in the matter after the government decided to appoint only three independent members after the board rejig.

The 47-member board, meant to safeguard India's vast trove of flora and fauna, is mandated by the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 to include five members of green non-governmental organisations and ten independent members including environmentalists, conservationists and ecologists.

Over 100 projects -- including planned roads, power plants and railway lines -- are awaiting the board's clearance before take-off. The standing committee of the board, scheduled to meet on August 12 and 13, will review as many projects as it can.

Of the three independent members, two are from Mr Modi's home state of Gujarat. They are   Gujarat forest official H S Singh, considered an expert on lions, and Bharat Pathak, director of the Ecological, Educational and Research Foundation, supported by the state government.

The third independent member is Raman Sukumar, an elephant expert from Bangalore.

The appointments made by the new government violate the Wildlife Protection Act, say environmentalists, adding that they may take the matter to the Supreme Court.

"The wildlife board regulates policy, it advises the Supreme Court on these matters. Without independent voices, it becomes toothless," said Bittu Sahgal, former member of NBWL.

The standing committee of the newly-constituted board will hold its first meeting on August 12.

Some of the projects that need to be cleared include a highway project in Gujarat, a proposed radar base in Andamans, a hydropower project in Sikkim, a border fence and patrol road in Mizoram and a railway line in Tripura.

The highway project in Kutch, Gujarat, which will go through 'flamingo city', the only known nesting site for flamingos in the sub-continent, has been turned down by the former wildlife board.

The board had also refused permission to build a radar base at Narcondam Island in Andamans, the only home to 300 critically endangered Hornbills.

In June this year, nearly a month after the Modi government came to power, the Centre gave a go-ahead for construction at the site, citing strategic defence needs. 

"The government is hoping for a pliable committee. The orders of this committee can be challenged in the Supreme Court. The government should rectify this," said P K Sen, former director of Project Tiger.

The Centre has said that it will ensure a balance between development and the need to safeguard the environment, but this could turn out to be the first big test of the government's green credentials.

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