Wildlife Institute of India asks to change Corbett clause after landing in trouble

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New Delhi | Published: August 20, 2018 8:49:22 AM

The WII is an autonomous institute under the Environment Ministry. On August 17, Director General (Forests) and Special Secretary Siddhanta Das had said that the ministry would look into the matter, the report says.

Under the clause, the premier research institute requires to “help and facilitate in obtaining necessary approvals” under wildlife and forest laws for a highway cutting through the core of the Corbett Tiger Reserve

With an aim to avoid any possible questions of propriety and conflict of interest, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) has written to National Buildings Construction Corporation Ltd (NBCC), requesting it to drop a clause in their Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Under the clause, the premier research institute requires to “help and facilitate in obtaining necessary approvals” under wildlife and forest laws for a highway cutting through the core of the Corbett Tiger Reserve, according to Indian Express report.

WII Director V B Mathur has requested to NBCC via email. The letter, which carries a backdate of August 16, followed intervention by the Environment Ministry, as per reports. The WII is an autonomous institute under the Environment Ministry. On August 17, Director General (Forests) and Special Secretary Siddhanta Das had said that the ministry would look into the matter, the report says.

“Since Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun is also a member of various committees of the Ministry of Environment, which are involved in environmental decision-making, it is requested that the Clause 2.3 ‘…WII will help and facilitate the Implementing Agency in obtaining necessary approvals…’, should be deleted from the said MoU and replaced by ‘The Institute would explain the scope, methodology, and outcomes of its feasibility study, when called upon to do so,” Mathur wrote to NBCC.

Additional General Manager (Uttarakhand and Delhi NCR) S K Soni, who signed the MoU on behalf of NBCC, said: “The WII’s request was received on Saturday and I have forwarded it to the NBCC directorate. Any change in the MoU with the WII will also have to be carried out in our MoU with the state government. I expect a decision in a day or two.”

The matter was raised when the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) had asked WII to clarify its position regarding the MoU, which was “apparently in contempt” of court orders regarding the Corbett reserve. The WII had claimed on August 8 that the institute was “only involved in carrying out the feasibility study” for the project and “all legal provisions related to any development in the tiger reserve will have to be addressed” by the state government.

The issue of contempt apart, the Corbett Tiger Reserve is legally a no-go zone for development activities. Under the Wildlife Protection Act, “core or critical tiger habitat areas of National Parks and sanctuaries… are required to be kept as inviolate for the purposes of tiger conservation”. In 2005, the Centre and the states of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh had agreed to an alternative alignment for a road between Kotdwar and Ramnagar under the supervision of the Supreme Court, rather than a highway through Corbett.

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