'Relocate Maldharis outside the park'
Times of India
The task force which reviewed the India Ecological Development Project (IEDP) in Gir has urged the Centre and state government to work out a policy to relocate Maldharis outside the park with adequate budgetary allocations. This, according to the task force report submitted to the Gujarat government recently, would help forest authorities maintain Gir's ecological integrity and prevent habitat degradation. The report suggested that a biogas plant be set up in each village with sufficient cattle population to reduce use of firewood. It noted how cattle belonging to the Maldharis continue to graze freely within the protected area (PA) which degrades habitat, and poses an epidemic threat to the lions and other endangered species.
Poaching was never a threat in the Gir national park till 2007 when eight lions were killed in the sanctuary for their bones, skin, claws and pelts. This was the first poaching case in the final abode of the Asiatic lion. Earlier, there had only been attempts of commercial poaching in the early 1990's, said the report. It pointed out that some of the local communities, whose population is very low, did indulge in poaching of wild animals for domestic consumption. Faster relay of information of offence, rapid movement within the PA and proper protection has led to almost complete eradication of poaching cases now, the report added.
The report stated that grazing of cattle in villages situated on the border of the protected Gir sanctuary still remains a major problem. About 50,000 cattle of about 100 villages on the border, exert grazing pressure on the PA, which has reduced by 10 per cent since the IEDP took over.
Collection of wood for fuel from forest is also a crucial issue. As per officials, there are about 20,000 households dependent on the Gir PA. Out of these 20,000 households, about 50 per cent get their energy requirement from forests in the PA fringe areas or from the adjoining non-PA forest areas. It is estimated that one family consumes about 10 kg of forest fuel wood per day. During the project implementation, more than 9,000 families have been given LPG connections. Although not all families use LPG alone, there has been a substantial reduction in the extraction of firewood, the report said.
The use of LPG is on the rise with its growing popularity and women getting accustomed to using it. People are also using agricultural wastes or crop residue for burning, said the report and added that the extraction of firewood may have reduced up to 70 per cent as compared to the situation before the implementation of the IEDP.
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