NEW DELHI: The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), an apex body which takes a call on use of land from different conservation areas for development activities, had approved diversion of around 1,792 hectares — an area equal to the size of 3,349 football fields — of wildlife habitat for 48 projects in 2020, the year of the pandemic which severely restricted ground visits for taking crucial decisions.
A study, analysing all the clearances granted by the Standing Committee (SC) of the NBWL last year, has found that the SC-NBWL considered 82 proposals, out of which 25 were for diversion within wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.
Most of the projects cleared were for linear diversion within sanctuaries, national parks and tiger reserves, said the study, carried out by a New Delhi-based not-for-profit organisation, Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE). Linear projects are land-disturbing activities that are linear in nature such as roads, railways, transmission lines, pipelines or any utility lines. It said, “Linear projects are known to be especially destructive because they fragment the entire landscape and interrupt movement range of animals.”
Around 1,040 hectares was approved for diversion from eco-sensitive zones while nearly 594 hectares were approved from within tiger habitats for linear projects, defence and infrastructure development. Remaining around 158 hectares were diverted in wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and conservation reserves, it said.
The SC-NBWL is headed by Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar. It consists of a member secretary and different members, including a non-official, nominated by the minister.
The SC-NBWL had also approved deletion (de-notification) of 1,08,983 hectares (around 1,089 sq km) of protected areas (PA) from Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary (HWS) in UP and Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary in MP. Analysis by LIFE shows PA of over 38,303 hectares was de-notified in 2018 which involved de-notification of the entire Turtle Sanctuary in Varanasi, while 5,445 hectares of PA was de-notified in 2019.
Though the ministry did not respond to TOI’s questions on findings of the study, an official who requested anonymity said the decision to de-notify area of the HWS was taken to simply rationalise the boundary of the sanctuary as the portion was basically non-forest land and it’s being used for agriculture and habitation for years. He said, “The forest area will continue to be part of the sanctuary.”