Thursday, December 09, 2010

Gir lions lose all central funds to tigers this year

Gir lions lose all central funds to tigers this year

The tigers have got the lion's share of central government funds this financial year - literally.

Absolutely no funds have been allocated for the conservation of the Asiatic Lions in Gir in the financial year 2010-11. This, according to the Union minister of state, finance, Namo Narain Meena, is because of the paucity of funds under the centrally-sponsored 'Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats' (IDWH) scheme.

Significantly, the Gujarat government has sought Rs262.36 crore for a plethora of conservation initiatives in the past two years.

Though the grant was 'in principal' approved more than a year ago, the time and method of actual allocation, as also the release of funds for lions is not happening.

This, combined with the state government's difference of opinion with the Centre over the translocation of Gir lions to MP, has become a standoff point between the two establishments.

"We are unable to understand why the central government is being so tightfisted with lions when the tigers are being allocated huge amounts regularly. Though the state government has enough allocated funds for now under the Lion Conservation Society of India, several mega projects are on hold," a senior forest official said requesting anonymity.

While the tiger population is declining steadily, the population of the Asiatic Lions in their last abode in Gir has been steadily increasing. At the last count in May 2010, their population was 411.

In response to a question by Mehsana MP Jayshree Patel in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, Meena replied, "Gujarat has submitted a proposal for consolidating long term conservation of Asiatic Lions at the total cost of Rs.262.36 crore for a period of five years, which has been approved 'in principle' by the Planning Commission.

However, the planning commission has suggested that financial assistance under the project may be met out of the ongoing scheme of IDWH. Due to paucity of funds in the scheme for the current financial year, no amount has been released so far."

Sources in the know of developments in New Delhi claim that the highest priority there is to halt the diminishing tiger population in the country and all the funds are being directed into that effort.

"The lions are safe in Gujarat and multiplying. We were impressed by the way Gujarat dealt with the poaching problem. The forest dwellers in Gir are tolerant towards the big cat, while the tiger is being killed in other states. That is a burning problem," a source said.

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