By ARUN PRATAP SINGH
DEHRADUN, 4 Dec: Forest and Environment Minister Harak Singh Rawat was today taken to task over the claim that no wildlife species in the state was under threat of extinction. Among those who objected to this claim included ruling party members. During Question Hour on the first day of the winter session of the state assembly here today, in response to a starred question posed by Pritam Singh Panwar, Harak Singh Rawat responded that according to the Zoological Survey of India, Uttarakhand was home to 3748 species of wild animals and birds. He said that the Zoological Survey of India had published a state report on fauna of Uttarakhand and he was quoting from that report. Rawat further claimed that none of the species mentioned in the report were on the verge of extinction or under threat. He added that although none of the species in Uttarakhand were facing extinction, but several projects such as Project Tiger, Project Elephant, Project Snow Leopard, Secure Himalayas and other schemes were in operation in the state aimed at protecting and conserving wildlife in the state. The response was immediately challenged by Panwar, who said that it was factually incorrect and it was a well known fact that many of the wildlife species in the state were under threat of extinction. He named that Himalayan Griffon (a vulture species), Red neck vulture, White vulture and many other wildlife species in this context. To this, Rawat claimed that the member was probably speculating since he was not quoting any figures to suggest the decline in the population of the species he had mentioned. Rawat said that unlike the census carried out by the forest department to count animals such as tigers and elephants, no census was carried out for the birds and, as a result, the state had to rely on the Zoological Survey of India studies. However, BJP member Munna Singh Chauhan too pointed out that many of the species in the state were indeed threatened, including the vultures, whose population was sharply declining, as they were dying due to the cattle owners resorting to indiscrete use of diclofenac and oxytocin injections which were poisonous for the vultures – who were scavengers and fed on dead animals. He also said that it was a matter of grave concern that there was nothing done by the state government to estimate the population of wild birds and to find out which species were under threat. To this, Rawat claimed that the government was serious about protecting and conserving wildlife and was engaging intensely with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII). For this, a state of the art laboratory was also being established at the WII. The WII had also been urged to conduct studies of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers and their catchment areas to observe the effect of pollution, etc., on the wildlife and biodiversity of the area, as well as to study the effects on the wildlife due to radiation emitted by Mobile Towers which had been installed across the state. In response to another starred question from Mamta Rakesh of the Congress, Labour Minister Harak Singh Rawat declared that an amount of Rs 6.37 crores had been released by the Labour Department during the year 2017-18 as payment to various hospitals for treatment of the workers registered under ESI scheme. During the year 2018- 19, an amount of Rs 10.72 crores had been released to various hospitals for treatment of ESI registered workers. This, he said, was in addition to the expenditure incurred by the government on treatment of workers at the various ESI hospitals and dispensaries of the government. This, he said, was an 80:20 scheme for which the Centre contributed 80 percent of the expenditure. Claiming that the government was sensitive towards the welfare of the workers, Rawat said that after taking over as Labour Minister, he had ensured that the workers were not deprived of medical attention. So the government had paid for the treatment of workers even in non- empanelled hospitals as the welfare of the workers was uppermost among the priorities of the government. He also disclosed that there were 29 ESI dispensaries and 39 empanelled hospitals under the ESI. He also said that the norms of ESI registration were being made flexible to encourage even the traders and small business owners to register their employees under the ESI even if less than 10 workers including clerks, etc., were employed by them, though it was mandatory for companies with more than 10 employees to register under the ESI. He claimed that the Centre was also sensitive towards welfare of the workers and was cooperating fully in setting up more ESI dispensaries in the state. In response to a starred question from Pritam Singh, Forest Minister Harak Singh Rawat claimed that he was in touch with the Centre and the authorities concerned on the Forest and Environment issues to get due clearances soon for the completion of Laldhang-Chillarkhal Road which passed through the reserved forests. He claimed that seventy percent of work had been completed when the Supreme Court ordered the work to be stalled. In accordance with the directions of the Court, the government had again gone through due processes such as seeking clearance from the State Wildlife Board and other authorities so that the work could again resume. He added that the National Wildlife Board would meet on 12 December and hopefully it would clear the project as other necessary formalities had been completed. He also informed the House that the government had incurred an expenditure of Rs 9.95 crores on the project till November, last year, when the project was halted by the Supreme Court. In response to another question, Labour Minister Harak Singh Rawat claimed that the government was concerned not only about the welfare of the organised sector workers but also about those employed in the unorganised sector. The minimum wages in the state had been raised from Rs 6,300 per month to Rs 8,500 per month in March this year. Urban Development Minister Madan Kaushik was lucky as the starred question related to solid waste management asked by Qazi Nizamuddin of Congress came up during the last moments of the Question Hour and no supplementaries could be asked.