The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), which Prime Minister Narendra Modi heads, has not met even once in the past five years with all its 47 members in attendance, the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change ministry informed the Rajya Sabha recently. Only a standing committee of NBWL, which is authorised to exercise the board’s powers, met 23 times between 2015-16 and 2019-20. During this period, a report in this newspaper said, 680 projects were granted wildlife clearance.
A full NBWL meeting is a necessity because while the committee’s function is to regulate land diversion within protected areas and eco-sensitive zones, a purely project clearance activity, NBWL has the power to deal with policy-level decisions. Wildlife conservation is a multi-disciplinary effort and NBWL members are from diverse fields. Therefore, it is the perfect platform to get stakeholders on board and evaluate projects much more rigorously.
The Centre’s reluctance to follow green laws and conduct a rigorous project-approval process is not just dangerous for the country’s biodiversity but also endangers the fundamental right of citizens to a clean environment. There are many scientific reports — the latest being the Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 — that have warned that further destruction of flora and fauna will have serious effects of humans. It’s time to strengthen green regulations, introduce a stronger system of checks and balances, and make the clearance process more transparent and inclusive. And for that, two reasonable steps would be regular and full NBWL meetings and a robust Environmental Impact Assessment law.