Understanding the MoEFCC’s U-turn

Source: The post is based on the article “Understanding the MoEFCC’s U-turn” published in The Hindu on 17th August 2023.

Syllabus: GS 3 – Environment Conservation

News: In June, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) reversed its decision to establish 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).

Why did the Ministry take back its decision?

Objection from NTCA: The idea of merging was first introduced amid the COVID-19 lockdown.

While the MoEFCC claimed that the merger would promote ease of doing business, the NTCA objected, citing concerns about potential administrative disorder, chaos, and loss of its autonomy.

Technical and Administrative Challenges: In response to the Karnataka High Court petition, the MoEFCC clarified that the notification wasn’t a merger attempt. Instead, it aimed to have various authorities operate together in 19 regional offices.

However, the MoEFCC dropped the merger due to complex technical and administrative challenges.

Criticism: Environmental activists criticized the decision, fearing that it would weaken crucial environmental organizations.

For example, NTCA can halt projects impacting Tiger Reserves, but the merger would have reduced its power by placing it under the control of the Deputy Director General of Forests.

What are other notifications that faced criticism?

Reorganizing Regional Offices: The notification also suggested a reorganization of current regional offices, which was also met with criticism due to its apparent lack of objective criteria.

For example, the notification proposed placing the Bengaluru regional office in charge of Karnataka, Kerala, Goa, and Lakshadweep, despite their diverse geographic and ecological traits.

Combining Project Tiger and Project Elephant: In the last month, the Indian government proposed combining Project Tiger and Project Elephant, raising concerns about NTCA’s autonomy.

Unlike Tiger Reserves, Elephant Reserves lack legal recognition under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. Hence, merging them could diminish Project Elephant’s significance, as it currently lacks proper legal recognition.

How has the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) changed in recent years?

Recently, regional ministry offices have expanded their roles in environmental approvals and project compliance, requiring increased funding and infrastructure. However, it’s unclear if this necessary support has been provided.

What is the way ahead?

Decentralized infrastructure is vital for accessibility and legal enforcement. An internal review system is also needed to ensure unbiased regulatory outcomes, upholding both environmental protection and social justice.

Note: The NTCA oversees India’s Tiger Reserves and manages Project Tiger. The FSI, a scientific body, focuses on forest data, while the WCCB is an enforcement authority. The CZA’s responsibilities are centered around zoo operations.

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