In a proposal to Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, the Finance Ministry has recommended that the Ministry of Environment Forests (MoEF) and Climate Change “disengage” from five autonomous institutions working under it and merge two others, thus reducing the 16 autonomous organisations under the ministry to nine.
Among institutions proposed to be disengaged from MoEF are the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, and Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM), Bhopal.
The recommendation is a part of an exercise carried out by the Finance Ministry for rationalisation of autonomous institutions that function under different ministries, and was sent to the Cabinet Secretary on September 30.
It recommended that the Society of Integrated Coastal Management be merged with the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management, as both “perform similar roles of promoting coastal management…to avoid duplication of activities and attain economies of scale’’.
It recommended merging of Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, which receives Rs 14 crore annually from MoEF, to merge with the ministry.
It also recommended that the Indian Council for Forest and Research Education, GB Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment and Sustainable Development and statutory bodies such as Central Pollution Control Board, Central Zoo Authority (CZA), National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), National Biodiversity Authority continue to function under and with the financial support of MoEF.
“This is not a Cabinet decision; it is simply a recommendation and an exercise which takes place every couple of years. For statutory bodies like NTCA, it is not even possible to disengage since Project Tiger is such a big project in which NTCA gives funds to states to carry out the work. Being an act of law, these bodies cannot be abolished,’’ NTCA member-secretary and head of CZA, S P Yadav, said.
The committee has recommended that MoEF disengage from five autonomous bodies: IIFM, WII, Indian Council of Forest Research and Education, Indian Plywood Industries Research and Training Institute, CPR Environmental Education Centre, and the Centre of Environment Education.
Pointing out that IIFM receives money from fees, besides ministry grants, as is the case with WII, the Finance Ministry has recommended that MoEF disengage from these two organisations within three years. In the interim, it recommended, it should reduce its grant to both organisations by 25 per cent annually.
The IIFM received Rs 37 crore in grants in 2019-20 and 2020-21, while WII received Rs 34 crore in grants from MoEF in both years. The Finance Ministry recommended that they both be converted to deemed universities.
WII director Dhananjai Mohan told The Indian Express: “We are not yet clear about the exact nature and status of these recommendations. We will act once we receive some clarity. For now, we are in touch with our ministry and will wait for them to take a final call. Of course, if the recommendation is implemented, then it is a matter of concern for us.”
Grants in aid received by WII from the government is primarily used for staff salary and infrastructure development and maintenance. The rest of the funds are raised through research projects from different government agencies such as the Department of Science and Technology.
The WII also receives funds for carrying out assessments for various projects, when directed to do so by a court order – such as by the Supreme Court or the NGT. These funds, from the project proponent, are submitted to routed through the government to the research body.
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