Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Forest Dept failed to utilise money meant for Asiatic Lions


Forest Dept failed to utilise money meant for lions

Ahmedabad Newsline By Abhishek Kapoor


After poaching incidents, CM announced formation of Rs 40-crore corpus dedicated for upkeep of lions... But an RTI petition has revealed that this situation arose, despite State Government having already spent a similar amount


Gandhinagar, June 5: FACING the heat of poaching incidents that saw at least eight Asiatic lions dead in Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in March, the State Government had decided to rope in the private sector to bring in more funds for the Gir Lion Conservation Society. But a petition under the Right to Information (RTI) Act has revealed that money has never been a constraint for the State Forest Department, which has on the other hand failed to utilise the full grants on earlier occasions.


On a visit to Gir in the aftermath of the poaching incident, Chief Minister Narendra Modi had announced the creation of a corpus of Rs 40-crore dedicated for the upkeep of the critically-endangered lion. The situation in fact arose, despite a similar amount already having been spent by the Government.


For the upkeep of lions in Gir and its surrounding areas, the State Government earmarked Rs 5.29 crore in 2004-05, Rs 4.49 crore in 2005-06 and Rs 4.66 crore in the 2006-07 budgets. Against this total of Rs 14.44 crore, the Department spent only Rs 12.95 crore. This information was provided by the office of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) in response to the query.


Also, in the last 10 years beginning 1997, the Department has received funding to the tune of Rs 27.44 crore from the World Bank, and another Rs 5.6 crore from the Japanese aid agency, OECF. This takes the total money with the Department to well over Rs 40 crore — the sum that the Chief Minister hopes would help in providing more security to the lion.


In response to the same RTI query, the Departmet’s Junagadh circle that manages the Gir sanctuary and the overall lion habitat, says that the average age of a beat guard under its jurisdiction is 46 years. Well past their prime, it is this lower rung of the Department that is in charge of keeping a tab on any anti-lion activity inside the 1,400 sq km lion territory. On a routine day, this means trudging across more than 10 kms to keep a watch in the forest. No wonder, when poachers killed three lions close to the guard outpost in Babaria range in March, there was no one to nab the culprits.


Meanwhile, the Forest Department has decided to give 100 motorcycles to its beat guards and foresters, which will improve their mobility while patrolling the large tracts.

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