Merging of Autonomous Bodies

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    Merging of Autonomous Bodies

    Syllabus: GS3/ Conservation

    In Context

    • Recently the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) merged the 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).
      • The Project Tiger division has also been merged with Project Elephant and a new division with the name ‘Project Tiger and Elephant Division’ has been created under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).

    National Tiger Conservation Authority(NTCA)

    • NTCA is a statutory body under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
    • It is constituted under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
    • It established the Tiger Protection Force with the aim of seizing the poachers and stopping the illegal killings of tigers.
    • The NTCA is the managing authority of Project Tiger and India’s Tiger Reserves.

    Forest Survey of India (FSI)

    • FSI is the Government of India Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change organization.
    • The FSI is a scientific body that primarily deals with forest data.
    • It conducts forest surveys, studies and researches to periodically monitor the changing situations of land and forest resources and present the data for national planning, conservation and sustainable management of environmental protection as well as for the implementation of social forestry projects.

    Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB)

    • WCCB is a statutory multi-disciplinary body established by the Government of India under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, to combat organized wildlife crime in the country. 
    • The WCCB is an enforcement authority.
    • It has its headquarter in New Delhi.

    The Central Zoo Authority (CZA)

    • The Central Zoo Authority (CZA) is the Statutory Body of The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (Government of India).
    • It is responsible for oversight of zoos.

    Project Tiger:

    • About: To tackle the problem of hunting and poaching of not just tigers but also other animals and birds, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi promulgated the Wildlife Protection Act in 1972.
      • Project Tiger was launched by the Central government on April 1, 1973, in a bid to promote conservation of the tiger.
    • Project Tiger key aspects: Notably, Project Tiger didn’t just focus on the conservation of the big cats. 
      • It also ensured the preservation of their natural habitat as tigers are at the top of the food chain. 
    • Rise in tiger population: Soon after, the number of tigers in India began to rise and by the 1990s, their population was estimated to be around 3,000. 
      • Today, there are 54 tiger reserves across India, spanning 75,000 sq km. The current population of tigers in the country stands at 3,167 as opposed to 1,411 in 2006, 1,706 in 2010 and 2,226 in 2014.

    Project Elephant (PE)

    • It was launched in 1992 to provide financial and technical support to major elephant bearing States in the country for the protection of elephants, their habitats and corridors.
    • It is a centrally sponsored scheme and seeks to address the issues of human-elephant conflict and the welfare of domesticated elephants.

    Issues with the mergers

    • Opposition by NTCA: The NTCA had opposed the merger, saying it could lead to “administrative confusion, chaos, loss of independence, undue interference in decision making, and loss of focus in discharging duties and responsibilities.”
    • No power to environmental organisations: The idea came under criticism from activists that it would render key environmental organisations “toothless”. 
      • For example, in the existing structure, the NTCA can oppose a forest clearance for an infrastructure project for diverting Tiger Reserve areas. 
      • The proposed merger would have rendered this difficult as the NTCA would have come under the Deputy Director General of Forests, who is in charge of the Integrated Regional Office and reports to the Ministry.
    • No objective criteria for merger: The notification also proposes to reorganise existing regional offices, and this idea too has come under criticism because it does not appear to be based on any objective criteria.
    • Issues with merging Project Tiger & Project Elephant: It has been criticised that the decision to merge the two projects was taken without discussion in the wildlife division of the MoEFCC.
      • Tiger Reserves are recognised under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 but Elephant Reserves are not.
      • There was no strategic plan to strengthen the Project Elephant division by providing sufficient funding and posting technically competent officials in managing the affairs of the division.
    • Need of special focus on Elephants:
      • Given the precarious status of Indian elephants, the Project Elephant division needs to be continued as a separate division with a focus on elephant conservation. 

    Way ahead

    • The MoEFCC justified the merger for “ease of doing business” however, it has been stated that decentralised infrastructure is essential as it increases accessibility to regulators and can potentially enhance legal enforcement.
    • Environmentalists have suggested an internal mechanism to review whether the offices are able to prioritise their actions in such a way that they don’t disproportionately favour any regulatory outcomes, while upholding environmental protection without compromising social justice.

    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] Examine the significance of merging Project Tiger with Project Elephant? What are the possible implications of the move?