Move to relocate lions from Gir reserve splits BJP
Times of India By Dhananjay Mahapatra
The Narendra Modi government will not make any compromise when it comes to Asiatic lions found only in Gujarat's Gir reserve forest. Not even when it a friendly and BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh government's fervent request for relocating one or two prides of lions to Sheopur district.
Before the Supreme Court, the Modi government through senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi on Thursday raised as many as six objections to the Centre's almost decade-old proposal to relocate some lions from Gir to a 300 sq km forest at Kunopalpur in Sheopur district of MP.
Though the Modi government virtually signalled burial of the plan, the Shivraj Singh Chauhan government would not mind giving a final try as its counsel senior advocate Soli J Sorabjee said both sides would sit down and try for a solution.
A Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices B S Chauhan and C K Prasad gave four weeks time to report back about the outcome of the last ditch attempt to make the relocation project workable and even suggested taking out an insurance package for the lions.
The Centre's plan, devised to save lions from a potential future disaster that could wipe them off as all of them are concentrated in the Gir forest, involved relocating two prides of lions numbering between 12 and 16 to Madhya Pradesh.
Amicus curiae Raj Panjwani informed the Bench that residents of as many as 24 villages falling within the identified area have been relocated in 2003, but the plan mooted by the Wildlife Insitute of India and approved by the National Board for Wildlife was still hanging fire.
Rohtagi said the state's opposition to the plan was based not on political but on solid environmental grounds. He said even the wildlife experts feel that lions could not be relocated to experimental surroundings already habited by tigers.
He said the number of Asiatic lions was increasing in Gujarat because of comprehensive action against poachers and the friendly villagers in and around Gir who do not wreck vengeance even if a lion occassionally mauled a bovine animal. In contrast, the tiger population in the jungles of MP were dwindling fast because of poaching and shrinking habitat, he added.
Rohatgi also objected to the relocation project being continued for 20 years. "It is not a question of taking away one or two lions. What they want is a continuance of the exchange programme for 20 years, which is not feasible," Rohatgi said.
The study for the relocation of some of the Asiatic lions to MP took into account the disaster some years back in Seringeti forest in Africa where a disease -- canine distemper -- wiped out 80% of the lion population within a short span.
Rohatgi said this apprehension has been taken care of as the state has already started building a second home for the Asiatic lions at a safe reserve forest in Girnar area.
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