The Environment Ministry has approached the Supreme Court to free the process of wildlife clearance for infrastructure projects from the apex court’s monitoring, citing delays due to the “extremely convoluted and time consuming” procedure.
The ministry’s Interlocutory Application (IA), signed on April 9, comes nine months after it was first urged by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to “approach the SC to allow state and national boards for wildlife to grant clearance” because of the “huge pendency of infrastructure projects”.
This move was originally prioritised as an action point at a meeting chaired by Nripendra Misra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, on July 12, 2014.
Subsequently, the issue was taken up a number of times in review meetings chaired by Misra and in weekly meetings of the government’s Project Monitoring Group.
According to Supreme Court orders on November 13, 2000 and May 9, 2002, land in a sanctuary or national park cannot be diverted or non-forest activities undertaken without the court’s specific approval.
Documents examined by The Indian Express show that the ministry’s appeal appears to have quoted verbatim from the conclusions of the July 12 meeting.
Both noted: “The present process for getting wildlife clearance has become extremely convoluted and time consuming as every user agency has to approach local authorities, chief wildlife warden, State Board for Wildlife (SBWL), the standing committee of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) and then to seek specific permission of this Hon’ble Court.”
Claiming that this process has been causing “time overruns resulting in cost escalations”, the appeal lists six such public sector projects that suffered delays between 19 to 66 months.
The government’s other argument seeking vacation of the SC orders is that “adequate safeguards are now available under the statutory provisions” of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, following an amendment in 2003.
Before the amendment, any alteration of sanctuary or national park boundaries was decided by the legislature of the state concerned. The appeal claimed that “the court’s objective has been complied with in the amendment” that made consultation with SBWL for sanctuaries and the NBWL for national parks mandatory.
Over two decades, the SC has passed a number of orders to monitor the functioning of the executive in relation to the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972.
On November 13 2000, the court directed that “no de-reservation of forest/ sanctuaries/ national parks shall be effected” following which the government started submitting all such proposals for the court’s approval.
On May 9 2002, the court ordered that all proposals of non-forest activities inside sanctuaries be placed before the standing committee of the NBWL (then Indian Board for Wildlife) for its recommendations before the court’s approval was sought.