National Board for Wildlife – Constitution, Powers and Functions
Wildlife traditionally refers to undomesticated animal species, but has come to include all organisms that grow or live wild in an area without being introduced by humans.
Section 2(37) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 says that any animal, aquatic or land vegetation which forms part of any habitat is wildlife.
India is home to large variety of wildlife (about 7.6% mammals, 14.7% of amphibians, 6% of birds, 6.2% of reptiles and 6.0% of flowering plants). India is one of the most biodiverse regions of the worlds and the country have 3 of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots – the Western Ghats, the Eastern Himalayas and the Indo-Burma hotspot. India also has seven natural world heritage sites, 11 Biosphere reserves and 37 Ramsar Wetlands.
In this article, you can read about the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL).
Laws relating to Wildlife in India
Article 48A of The Constitution on India, laid down that it is the duty of the state to protect, conserve and safeguard the forests and wildlife. Also, Article 51A(g), laid down that it is the fundamental duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve natural environment including forests, wildlife, rivers, lakes, and to be compassionate about the living creatures.
Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 was enacted by the Government of India in 1972 for protection of the wildlife and environment. The aim of the act is to ensure and conserve the environmental as well as ecological security of the country.
Various other acts were enacted by the Indian Government for protection and conservation of Wildlife. Such as Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980; The Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986. The Government of India in 2006 established Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, a statutory body under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
National Board for Wildlife
The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) is a statutory body constituted by the Central Government under Section 5A of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. It is advisory in nature and advises Central Government on framing policies and measures for conservation of wildlife in the country and carries out impact assessment of projects in areas inhabited by Wildlife. It is an apex body to review all wildlife related matters and approve projects in and around National Parks & Wildlife Sanctuaries. National Board for Wildlife is chaired by the prime minister.
History of National Board for Wildlife
During 1952, due to rapid decline in the wildlife population in the country, the government had constituted an advisory board designated as Indian Board for Wildlife (IBWL). The Government of India, during 1972 appointed a committee for recommending legislative measures and administrative machinery for ensuring environmental protection. Accordingly, a comprehensive central legislation was enacted in 1972 called the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 for providing special legal protection to our Wildlife and to the endangered species of fauna in particular. Several amendments to the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 has been done, the latest being in 2006. As per the amendment in 2002, a provision was incorporated for the constitution of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), replacing the Indian Board for Wildlife (IBWL). On 22nd September 2003, National Board for Wildlife was constituted.
Constitution of National Board for Wildlife
The National Board for Wildlife is constituted by the Central Government. It has 47 members,
- Prime Minister as the Chairperson;
- The minister in-charge of the Ministry of Environment and Forests as the Vice-Chairperson;
- Three members of Parliament (2 from the Lok Sabha and 1 from the Rajya Sabha);
- The Director of Wild Life Preservation as the Member-Secretary of the National Board;
- Member, Planning Commission in-charge of Forests and Wild Life;
- 5 persons to represent NGO’S nominated by the Central Government;
- 10 persons nominated by the Central Government from amongst eminent conservationists, ecologists and environmentalists;
- The Secretary to the Government of India, in-charge of the Ministry or Department of the Central Government dealing with Forests and Wild Life;
- The Chief of the Army Staff;
- The Secretary to the Government of India in-charge of the Ministry of Defence;
- The Secretary to the Government of India in-charge of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting;
- The Secretary to the Government of India in-charge of the Department of Expenditure, Ministry of Finance;
- The Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Tribal Welfare;
- The Director-General of Forests in the Ministry or Department of the Central Government dealing with Forests and Wild Life;
- The Director-General of Tourism, Government of India;
- The Director-General, Indian Council for Forestry Research and Education, Dehradun;
- The Director, Wild Life Institute of India, Dehradun;
- The Director, Zoological Survey of India;
- The Director, Botanical Survey of India;
- The Director, Indian Veterinary Research Institute;
- The Member-Secretary, Central Zoo Authority;
- The Director, National Institute of Oceanography;
- One representative each from ten States and Union territories by rotation, to be nominated by the Central Government.
The office of National Board member is not an office of profit. Except the ex-officio members, all the members of the National Board are entitled to receive allowances in respect of expenses incurred in the performance of their duties.
Powers of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL)
- The National Board for Wildlife has the reviewing power in all wildlife related cases.
- No alteration of boundaries of the National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries can be done without the permission from the Board.
- Without approval or permission from the NBWL no construction of tourist lodges, destruction or diversion of wildlife habitat and de-notification of Tiger Reserves, can be done.
Functions of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL)
Section 5C of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 laid down several functions of the National Board for Wildlife. They are as follows:-
- The major function of National Board is to promote the conservation and development of wild life and forests.
- NBWL advises both Central and State Governments on the matters of promoting wild life conservation and protection.
- Effectively controlling poaching and illegal trade of wild life and its products.
- Making recommendations on the setting and managing national parks, sanctuaries and other protected areas.
- NBWL carries out Environmental Impact Assessment of projects and activities on wild life or its habitat.
- Reviewing the progress in the field of wild life conservation in the country and suggesting measures for improvement to the Government.
- Preparing and publishing a status report at least once in two years on wildlife in the country.
Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife(NBWL)
Section 5B of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 read along with Rule 11 of the National Board for Wildlife Rules, 2003 gives the National Board power to constitute Standing committee, committees, sub-committee or study groups. The standing committee consist of Environment Minister as its vice-chairperson, and not less than ten members from the Board members, nominated by the Vice-chairperson.
The difference between the standing committee and the National Board is that the Standing Committee regulates land diversion within protected areas and eco-sensitive zones, making it a clearance body, on the other hand, the NBWL, has the power to deal with policymaking and decisions on wildlife.
Seeking clearance from the Standing Committee
- Several proposals seeking statutory approvals for projects come before the Standing Committee.
- Every proposal is submitted by the State Government in the approved format with complete details such as maps, field assessments, location, alternatives explored, etc…..
- The clear opinion of the officer in charge, the Chief Wildlife Warden and the State Government in consultation with the State Board for Wildlife must be there in the proposal.
- The Standing Committee then has to consider such proposals in accordance with the provisions of the WLPA.
Controversy and Criticism
The National Board for Wildlife has been in various controversies and had been criticized a lot of the times by Environmentalists, conservationists and others working for environment. There has been criticism of the standing committee for giving approvals to many projects. Many environmentalists opined that the approvals have been given keeping only the economic benefits in minds and not the long-term environmental hazards that can be caused. Another criticism is that the NBWL has not been working to fulfill its mandate but rather, through the standing committee, only to approve the projects that may actually cause more harm to the wildlife/environment than good. In April 2020, the Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife met and approved 16 project proposals. It also approved many other projects on the same day, covering about 3000 acres of land in eco-sensitive zones.
Various Points of Criticism
- NBWL has not met since 2014 and as the standing committee has to work under the supervision of the NBWL, there is no advice and discussion on matters related to wildlife protection and conservation, but only a body for the clearing of projects. According to a report published in The Hindu, standing committee has cleared 682 projects out of 687 that came for scrutiny, only 5 projects had been rejected since 2014.
- There is no consideration of the ill-effects of its recent decisions on wildlife, by the committee. It can be clearly seen by a careful perusal of the decisions of the committee posted on the website of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. The posted decisions do not disclose any details on how compliance of Section 29 or Section 35(6) of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 has been ensured.
- The absence of independent environmentalists and conservationists on the committee makes it easier for the committee to give approval for projects without any objection from concerned people. Wildlife activists are concerned about how policy level proposals are being handled in the absence of environmentalists and conservationists on the board.
- While Ministry officials says that there is not much difference between the National Board for Wildlife and the standing committee, and as the members of the committee are nominated from the NBWL, the fact is that it is easy for the committee with a small membership to dilute the Board’s mandate.
Author: Vikramjit Singh,
Panjab University SSG Regional Centre, Hoshiarpur