Featured image: Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. Photo: Harendra Dagar/Flickr, CC BY 2.0
New Delhi: In a letter to the environment ministry, the director of the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) has expressed concern over the proposed disengagement of the institution.
The move comes after the Ministry of Finance’s recommendation to divest the institution of its status as an autonomous body of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
According to a report in The Hindu, the institute has an annual expenditure of Rs 34 crore which is sourced in the form of a grant from the environment ministry. It generated only Rs 3.5 crore from consultancy and advisory services, which was used to pay pensions to employees appointed before 2004.
Dhananjai Mohan, the institute’s director, in the letter, said that the recommendation was “unviable” and would affect the institution’s perception as “unbiased opinion generator” that was consulted by both government and public sector units.
“The major responsibility of this Institute is to provide advice to MoEFCC based on scientific information on policy and management of the country’s Wildlife Resources. This role can only be performed and remains relevant as long as the institute remains a part of the MoEFCC,” Mohan said in the letter.
Speaking to The Hindu, a scientist at the institution said that the implementation of the proposal would sound “the death knell” for the organisation that employed 112 persons.
The finance ministry’s recommendation came after a review of 194 autonomous bodies across 18 ministries by its expenditure department. The proposal suggested that 109 bodies be merged into 26 and that the government “disengage” from 23, including the WII.
The proposal also seeks to reduce WII’s funding by 25% each year and turn the institute into a deemed university, engaged in teaching and research, while the Centre would continue to access its advisory and training services as a “client”.
In the case of WII, the government will cut funding to the institute by 25% every year, and it could become a ‘Deemed University’ engaged in teaching and research. Mohan’s letter, however, pointed out that the institute had very few courses and students and had twice been rejected by the University Grants Commission for qualification as a deemed university.
Mohan’s letter also said the institute would not be able to raise funds from its two Masters’ programmes, which had a maximum intake of 20 students each every alternate year. “The institute gets no revenue from course fees. These courses fill in the need of the nation to provide professional wildlife biologists and, therefore, are funded in limited number by the Union government,” the letter said, according to a report in Down To Earth.
The letter also pointed out that the institute provided scientific assessments of projects appraised under the Environment Impact Assessment notification, 2006 and dissociating the body from the ministry, which currently coordinates funding for WII, would lead to a conflict of interest as the institute would solicit funding from the very agencies that the reports were being prepared for.
“Given the above facts and the institute’s inability to generate adequate resources due to its limited and highly specialised scope, the proposal to disengage the institute from MoEFCC will not be viable,” Mohan said, in the letter.
In the past, the institute has provided scientific research to drive policies in the area of various conservation efforts, including conservation of tigers, Gangetic dolphin, great Indian bustard, Sangai, the Gangetic river system and the recovery of biodiversity as well as climate change-associated conservation initiatives.
The other premier environment-wildlife-forest institutions that were selected for disengagement by the finance ministry included the Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM), Bhopal; Indian Plywood Industries Research and Training Institute, Bengaluru; CPR Environmental Education Centre, Chennai; and Centre for Environment Education (CEE), Ahmedabad.