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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Diversion of land from tiger, elephant reserves will continue to need clearance from top panel

Nitin Sethi, TNN | May 31, 2012, 03.11AM IST NEW DELHI: The environment and forests ministry on Tuesday decided to correct the internal guidelines on wildlife clearances for using forest patches in tiger and elephant reserves which will have to be approved by the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL). Media reports had said that the environment ministry amended the existing regulations to take projects requiring elephant and tiger reserves and wildlife corridors out of the purview of the NBWL. Under court orders and ministry rules, all projects that require land in protected areas, or in a 10-km radius around them, tiger reserves or elephant reserves need to be cleared by the standing committee of NBWL, which comprises wildlife experts and government officials and is chaired by the environment minister. An internal discussion began in 2009 within the ministry on taking elephant and tiger reserves out of the domain of the NBWL standing committee with some senior officials suggesting that the internal guidelines had gone beyond the purview of what the apex court had ordered. It was also pointed out that wildlife corridors or elephant reserves did not hold any legal sanctity. Wildlife corridors remain within the realm of scientific debate and elephant reserves are management demarcations done to boost money for conservation under Project Elephant but do not have any special legal treatment. Some officials within the ministry pointed out that the clearance from the wildlife board to use tiger reserve lands, unlike in the case of elephant reserves, was mandatory under the Wildlife Protection Act. In December 2011, the decision was taken to maintain status quo on this count. In another decision, the ministry had decided in 2009 that environmental clearances - a separate process - can run parallel to the forestry and wildlife clearances and can be made conditional upon project developers eventually securing both where required. While the environmental clearance process reflected this decision, the wildlife clearance side of the ministry did not fix its rules in consonance. In February 2012, it was decided to bring the wildlife clearance rules in alignment with the environmental regulations but the changed rules also removed reference to tiger, elephant reserves and corridors. Sources said the ministry had corrected this and brought tiger and forest areas of elephant reserves back under the NBWL purview.

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