The Gujarat forest department did not take cognisance of the findings of a scientific study conducted by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) with a recommendation on habitat improvement in potential wildlife corridors in the state, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) said in a report tabled in the Assembly on Saturday.
The CAG’s ‘Performance Audit of Protection, Conservation and Management of Wildlife Sanctuaries in Gujarat’ said ISRO had identified 12 wildlife corridors in its study in 2014 and 2017 and shared it with the forest department with a recommendation on habitat improvement in the potential corridors.
The forest department neither conducted any study itself to identify the precise corridors nor took cognisance of the findings of the ISRO study, it said.
The corridors thus identified were not included fully in the notified eco-sensitive zones of Balaram Ambaji and Jessore sanctuaries, the report added.
Gujarat does not have a state-specific forest policy and the concerned department has not yet established a mechanism for ensuring implementation of the National Forest Policy and National Wildlife Action Plan, the CAG report noted. A forest policy provides a strategy for conservation with a focus on preservation, maintenance, sustainable utilisation, restoration, and enhancement of the natural environment, it said.
The state has not yet declared critical wildlife habitats (CWHs) in sanctuaries even after 14 years of implementation of the Forest Rights Act, and some activities envisaged under Gujarat Bear Conservation and Welfare Action Plan were yet to be completed, it further pointed out.
Sanctuaries in the state were being managed on an ad-hoc basis and plans lacked uniformity in terms of mid-term evaluation, etc, it said.
“The audit notices that even after 15 years since the report of the National Forest Commission, and after being pointed out by the CAG, Gujarat has not prepared its forest policy till (November 2022),” it said.
The National Forest Policy was not being properly implemented in the state, the report said.
It also called for the state eco-tourism policy to be updated and modified as per the extant policy of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
Regarding bear conservation, it said while Gujarat has five protected areas of sloth bear, the available habitats face pressure in the form of livestock grazing, tourism and developmental activities like road construction and expansion, mining, etc.
The government did not utilise the reports of the Wildlife Institute of India during preparation and execution of the management plans of respective sanctuaries, it further said.
The linkage between funds allocated and activities envisaged under the management plan was missing, as per the report.
It also highlighted “deficiencies” in the demarcation of sanctuaries and said such records were not maintained properly and inspections were not adequate for avoiding encroachment of sanctuary areas.
“Despite the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, which stipulates that no fresh land could be brought under use (including cultivation) after 2005, fresh areas were being cleared for cultivation,” it noted.
In the absence of a systematic approach for timely preparation of the zonal master plan (ZMP), it remained incomplete in respect of five sanctuaries even after lapse of 12 months to 94 months since the stipulated dates of their formation, the CAG report said.
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