A recommendation by the Finance Ministry to divest the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) of its status as an autonomous body of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has triggered anxiety among scientists at the organisation.
A letter by the WII Director to the Environment Ministry says that the directive was “unviable” and would affect the institution’s ability to be seen as an “unbiased opinion generator” that both government and public sector units consulted for assessing the impact of development projects on wildlife.
The institute has an annual expenditure of ₹34 crore that was sourced from the Environment Ministry. It generated only ₹3.5 crore from consultancy and advisory services, which went towards paying pensions to employees appointed before 2004.
“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,” says the letter signed by institute Director, Dhananjai Mohan. The Hindu has viewed this letter.
A scientist with the institution, who declined to be identified, said that the proposal if implemented would be “the death knell” of the organisation that has 112 employees.
The Finance Ministry moves follows a review by its Expenditure Department of 194 autonomous bodies across 18 Ministries. Of them, 109 bodies must be merged into 26, and government must “disengage” from 23, one which is the WII.
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. The Central government could continue to access WII advisory and training services as a “client.” Dr. Mohan’s letter, however, said that there were too few students and courses offered by the institute for it to qualify as a Deemed University, and it had twice been rebuffed by the University Grants Commission on these grounds.
Along with the WII, other autonomous bodies that have been recommended to be disengaged are the Indian Institute of Forest Management, and the Indian Plywood Industries Research and Training Institute. Other Environment Ministry organisations, such as the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History will be subsumed within the activities of the Environment Ministry. Still others, such as the Society of Integrated Coastal Management and the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management, will be merged.