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C062610_Diversion_of_Manju_Menon - COMMENTARY Diversion of...

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COMMENTARY june 26, 2010 vol xlv nos 26 & 27 EPW Economic & Political Weekly 18 Diversion of Protected Areas: Role of the Wildlife Board Manju Menon, Kanchi Kohli, Vikal Samdariya Manju Menon ( [email protected] ), Kanchi Kohli ( [email protected] ) and Vikal Samdariya ( [email protected] ) are members of Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group. Between 1998 and 2008, the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife considered 244 cases for diversion of protected areas. It approved diversion covering 2.88% of the area proposed, while rejecting a shift in a smaller area (0.87%). The rest of the area proposed for diversion still awaits a decision. The board has been meeting infrequently and the decision- making process has been slow. O fficial statistics of the government of India indicate that 4.8% of the country’s land area is protected for the specific purpose of wildlife conser- vation. Legally recognised under the Wildlife Protection Act ( WLPA 1972, amended 2002), there are currently 661 protected areas ( PA ) in the country. These include 99 national parks, 515 wildlife sanctuaries, 43 conservation reserves and four community reserves ( M o EF 2009). Prior to the introduction of the last two categories, our PA system offered little op- portunity to manage different landscapes in creative ways based on an assortment of priorities. Even now, it is highly limited compared to the PA systems in some coun- tries in Africa and Latin America, where seven to eight categories of PA s exist, ranging from “strictly protected” to multi- ple-use areas, based on different systems of governance and land use. The purpose of this article is to comment upon the procedures that have evolved for the diversion 1 of PA land since the enactment of the WLPA . We focus on the role of the expert body, the National Board for Wild- life ( NBWL ), in these procedures, on the basis of its functioning in the last decade. Are All PAs ‘Vulnerable’? The operational word in the act is “protec- tion” and the law explicitly states that it will not allow any destruction, exploita- tion or removal of any wildlife (including forest produce) or the diversion, damage or destruction of the protected habitat for wild animals. The method of implementa- tion of these clauses of “protection” is based on a set of regulatory and judicial processes that evaluate proposed activi- ties as being “destructive”, “exploitative” or “damaging” before they are granted or rejected permission. In effect, the clauses of the WLPA do not completely put out of bounds any activity whatsoever, within a PA , i e, there are no “banned” or totally prohibited activities. In the case of wildlife sanctuaries, the procedure entails seeking the permission of the chief wildlife warden ( CWLW ) of the particular state where the sanctuary is located. However, the CWLW has to consult the concerned State Board for Wildlife ( SBWL ) (Section 29) before a particular permission is granted. For national parks, the consultation needs to be with the NBWL and its standing com- mittee which has been delegated several
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