The National Board for Wildlife is responsible for protecting the country’s most ecologically fragile lands. It guides the Indian government’s decisions on matters related to wildlife conservation, and issues approvals for development projects in protected areas.
Experts and activists have often criticised the board for granting too many clearances for projects. But they have been particularly dismayed by its functioning since 2014, when the Bharatiya-Janata-Party-led alliance came to power at the Centre. Since then, they say, the board’s scrutiny of projects has reduced, and the role of independent experts has been curtailed, while that of government officials has increased.
To determine whether there was grounds for concern, Vaishnavi Rathore analysed the minutes of 19 meetings of the board's standing committee between 2011 and 2016, in which more than 800 projects were discussed. The analysis revealed troubling patterns in how the board was conducting meetings and taking decisions.
“I had often heard from wildlife and policy expert friends that they felt like aspects of decision-making in the board had changed,” Rathore said. “But going through discussions of more than 800 projects, we were now able to move beyond this feeling to let data show us these trends.”