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Meagre funds allocated for protection of wildlife sanctuaries in Gujarat: CAG

Highlighting a lack of “state-specific forest policy” in Gujarat, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) in a report tabled in the state legislature Saturday, stated that funds allocated for protection, conservation, and management of protected areas in the state were “meagre”.

The funds released for protection, conservation, and management of protected areas between 2016-21 ranged between 11 to 21 per cent of the total funds released to the forest department, stated the country’s top audit watchdog in its report titled ‘Performance Audit of Protection, Conservation, and Management of Wildlife Sanctuaries in Gujarat.’

“Despite the MoEF prescribing wildlife as a priority sector, the allocation of funds by state government to the Forest and Environment Department continued to be meagre,” the Auditor observed. Against a budget provision of Rs 6,748 crore, the government released Rs 6,120 crore to the office of PCCF (Principal Chief Conservator of Forest) and HOFF (Head of the Forest Force) between 2016 and 2021. Out of this, an expenditure of Rs 6,005 crore was incurred on various schemes and activities which included Rs 823 crore on protection, conservation, and management of protected areas. “This amounted to only 13.71 percent of the total expenditure incurred by PCCF and HOFF,” the audit report pointed out.

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The CAG also came down heavily on the state government for not preparing a state-specific forest policy. Even after 15 years since the National Forest Commission recommended all states to have their own forest policy and after the CAG pointed this out in 2009, “Gujarat has not prepared its Forest policy,” the report stated.

“Further the department has not established a mechanism… for ensuring implementation of provisions of National Forest Policy and National Wildlife Plan… Declaration of Critical Wildlife Habitats in the sanctuaries was not done even after a lapse of 14 years of implementation of the Forest Rights Act. There were delays in preparation of management plans and sanctuaries were being managed on ad-hoc basis,” the CAG stated.

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There are 28 Protected Areas (PAs) in Gujarat which comprise four national parks, one conservation reserve, and 23 wildlife sanctuaries. The total area under PAs is 17,099 square kilometre, of which 4,640 square kilometre or 27.5 per cent is forest land and the remaining belongs to non-forest ecosystems which mainly consist of the Kutch Desert Sanctuary.

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