Saturday, October 10, 2009

Did President's Gir visit violate forest laws?

Did President's Gir visit violate forest laws?

Rules are for the country's citizens to obey; but not for the country's first citizen - or so it seems. Did President Pratibha Patil's much hyped visit for a dekko at the lions in the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary violate the laws of the jungle? The sanctuary is closed every year for visitors between June 15 to October 15 during monsoon, as decided by the forest department, as this is supposed to be the mating season for lions.

But an exception seems to have been made to accommodate the vacation plans of the President, who visited the sanctuary with an entourage of nine vehicles on Friday evening. If reports by local foresters are to be believed, the President's visit was a smash hit with sightings of four lion prides in a span of less than three hours.

A school of thought emerging from the locals is that laws should be the same for everyone. "We had sent a fax to all the senior forest officials that the Presidential visit is a violation of the forest laws. If there is a notification which disallows everyone from entering the sanctuary area, why should there be exceptions? This is the time for lions to mate. Human movement on such a massive scale disturbs and enrages the lions. If it was an official visit it could still be justified," a local activist Amit Jethava said.

Last year, the lions had created a furore when a male lion killed a man on the spot, who was taking pictures of a mating pair on his mobile. However, the principal secretary environment and forests, SK Nanda claims no exception has been made for the President and a notification has been issued to open the sanctuary to everyone.

"The sanctuary is also closed for maintenance of roads after rainfall, to clear fallen trees... There have been virtually no rains here since July, so very little repair work was required and the sanctuary was therefore reopened earlier than scheduled," he said.

Union minister of state, Jairam Ramesh, is also scheduled to visit the sanctuary to personally observe the forest department's plans for the expansion of lion habitat. This is an official visit.

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