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Understanding the MoEFCC’s U-turn

Context: The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) recently reversed its decision to merge several key environmental organizations, sparking debates over its intentions and potential consequences.

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  • During the COVID-19 lockdown, the MoEFCC proposed creating integrated regional offices by merging offices of the Forest Survey of India (FSI), the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), and the Central Zoo Authority (CZA), and thus bring them under the Ministry.
  • But more than two years later, the MoEFCC dropped the merger plan, likely owing to technical and administrative difficulties in merging the institutions in question.

Rationale Behind the Ministry’s Merger Plan

  • Ease of Doing Business: The MoEFCC justified the merger by citing the need for “ease of doing business.”
    • By consolidating these organizations under one roof, the Ministry likely aimed to simplify decision-making processes, and streamline administrative procedures etc.
  • Efficient Resource Allocation: Combining the efforts and resources of these organizations could potentially lead to cost savings and improved resource utilization.
  • Enhanced Coordination: By sharing a common structure and administrative framework, it could have been easier to facilitate communication and joint initiatives related to environmental conservation.
  • Consolidated Oversight: Bringing these organizations under a single Ministry’s oversight could provide a unified approach to managing various aspects of environmental protection, wildlife conservation, and forest management.

Criticism of the Merger Plan

  • Loss of Autonomy and Effectiveness: Critics argued that merging organizations like the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) could undermine their autonomy and effectiveness.
    • The NTCA’s ability to oppose forest clearances for projects affecting Tiger Reserves might have been compromised under the proposed arrangement.
  • Interference in Decision-making: Concerns were raised about potential interference in decision-making processes due to the consolidated structure.
  • Administrative Confusion: The merger could lead to administrative confusion and inefficiency, particularly in cases where different organizations had distinct mandates and functions.
  • Loss of Focus and Expertise: Critics argued that merging specialized organizations could dilute their focused expertise.
    • Each organization, such as the Forest Survey of India (FSI) and the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), has a unique role and specialized knowledge. Combining them could lead to a loss of domain-specific expertise.

Key Environmental Organisations in India

National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)
  • Established in 2006; HQ: New Delhi; under MoEF&CC
  • NTCA is a statutory body constituted under the WPA, 1972 (Amendment Act, 2006).
  • Chairperson: Minister of Environment.
  • It provides statutory authority to Project Tiger.
  • Addresses the livelihood interests of local people in areas surrounding Tiger Reserves.
  • State level Steering Committees will be set up in the Tiger States under the Chairmanship of respective Chief Minister.
National Board for Wildlife (NBWL)
  • Established in 2003; HQ: New Delhi; under MoEF&CC
  • It replaced the ‘Indian Board for Wildlife’, which was formed in 1952 as an advisory board.
  • NBWL is a statutory body constituted under the WPA, 1972.
  • NBWL Composition: Chair Person: The Prime Minister | Vice-Chair: Minister of Environment | 45 other members including 19 ex-officio members, 3 MPs (2 from LS & 1 from RS), 5 NGOs.
  • Objective: To promote the conservation and development of wildlife and forests.
  • It has power to review all wildlife-related matters and approve projects in and around national parks and sanctuaries.
  • No alternation of boundaries in National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries can be done without approval of the NBWL
Forest Survey of India (FSI)
  • Established in 1981; HQ: Dehradun in Uttarakhand; under MoEF&CC.
  • It started as ‘Pre-Investment Survey of Forest Resources (PISFR)’ in 1965 before re-organized as FSI in 1981.
  • Objective: to conduct survey and assessment of forest resources.
  • Forest Survey Report: Released by FSI since 1987, biennially (once in two years).
Central Zoo Authority (CZA)
  • Established in 1992 (HQ: New Delhi)
  • CZA is a statuary body, under 1991 Amendment to Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972; and under MoEF&CC.
  • Objectives: To complement the national effort in conservation of wild life + To maintain Indian Zoos on par with International standards + Exchange of animals between Indian and foreign zoos.
  • The Authority consists: Chairman: Minister of Environment + 10 members & a member Secretary.
Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB)
  • Established in 2006 + HQ: New Delhi + under MoEF&CC
  • WCCB is a statutory body constituted under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 (WPA 2006, Amendment).
  • Have five regional offices at Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai & Jabalpur.
  • Objective: to combat organized wildlife crime
  • Additional Director General (Wild Life) is the ex-officio director of the WCCB.
  • WCCB is the nodal point for SAWEN (South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network) in India.
  • WCCB has conducted: Operation Save Kurma, Thunder Bird, Wild-Net, Lesknow, Birbil, Clean Art
  • It also assists & advises the Customs authorities in inspection of the consignments of flora & fauna as per the provisions of WPA, CITES & EXIM Policy.
  • UNEP has awarded WCCB with ‘Asia Environment Enforcement Awards’ in 2018.
National Biodiversity Authority (NBA)
  • Established in 2003 + HQ: Chennai + under MoEF&CC
  • NBA is a statutory body under Biological Diversity Act, 2002.
  • The act was enacted to give effect-to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (India signed it in 1992)
  • Mandate: to perform regulatory & advisory functions for the GoI on issues of conservation, sustainable use of biological resources.
  • NBA supports creation of State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs).
  • Biodiversity Heritage Sites: Notified by State Governments in consultation with local bodies.
Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI)
  • Established in 1962 + HQ: Ballabhgarh in Haryana (earlier based at Chennai).
  • Key person: Rukmini Devi Arundale (also the 1st Chairperson of AWBI).
  • AWBI is a statutory advisory body under The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 under the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying.
  • Functions: Its advices governments on the matters related to Animal welfare + Provides grants to Animal Welfare Organizations.
Botanical Survey of India (BSI)
  • Established in 1890 (under the direction of Sir George King) + HQ: Kolkata + under MoEF&CC.
  • BSI is the apex taxonomic research organization of the country.
  • Mandate: biosystematics research, floristic studies, documentation of flora, digitization of herbarium specimens, & advisory services etc.,
  • BSI publishes ‘Red Data Book of Indian Plants’.
National Ganga River Basin Authority
  • Established in 2009 + HQ: New Delhi + under Ministry of Jal Shakti
  • Mandate: Abatement of pollution & conservation of the river Ganga.
  • The NGRBA is chaired by the Prime Minister
  • Members include: Union Ministers concerned, the Chief Ministers of the States through which Ganga flows.

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