13 May, 2007 l 0018 hrs ISTlNitin Sethi/TIMES NEWS NETWORK
NEW DELHI: 'Project Snow Leopard', the environment ministry's innovative conservation project for the high altitude Himalayan landscape, has been stalled by a year with the Planning Commission not allocating any money for it in the 2007-08 budget.
The project, breaking from the usual mould of wildlife schemes, envisages using the elusive and endangered high-altitude cat, of which 200-600 specimens are estimated remaining in the wild in India, as a flagship species to work with communities on conservation of the habitat in the higher ranges of five states — Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
But now with the Planning Commission holding back money for the project, the work done by the environment ministry over several years along with the state governments and research organisations will not get translated into action at the field level this year.
The environment ministry has set up a steering committee, including senior officials from the Centre as well as the five states, to give impetus to the project.
But the Planning Commission, working to revamp the allocation process under the 11th Five-Year Plan for the environment ministry, has put on hold most new projects that were proposed. 'Project Snow Leopard' is one of the casualties.
Under the new dispensation proposed by the commission, the five states are worried that the project may not get any direct allocation but a discretionary sum from a general fund.
This, one senior state wildlife official said, would make the project compete with other pan-India and more 'in your face' projects and larger states. "In a general fund, the tendency is to allocate money on the basis of state demands rather than project requirement," he said.
To counter this, the steering committee for the project has suggested that a certain percentage of the overall fund be earmarked for the scheme. The environment ministry, a source said, is amenable to the idea and would put up such a suggestion to the Planning Commission.
Meanwhile, the states plan to utilise some funds from sources meant for national parks and sanctuaries to tide over the financial vacuum created this year. Besides this, they have also requested the Centre to look at allocating some money from other heads to tide over the financial squeeze.
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