Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Ramesh clears Girnar ropeway project

Ramesh clears Girnar ropeway project
Times of India

Wants A 'Vulture Cafeteria' & Higher Towers To Run Cable Car

Union minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh approved the Girnar ropeway project in principle, proposing a roundabout route to reach the Ambaji temple on Girnar mountain which is the highest point in Gujarat.

The minister gave clearance to the project which was pending since 1995 on the condition that the state government will explore an alternate route for the cable cars to reach the top from Bhavnath Taleti near Junagadh town, skirting the vulture nesting sites. Environment activists had been opposing the ropeway project because it would disturb the nesting of the endangered Girnari Giddh (vultures).

Ramesh also said the Gujarat government would have to set up a 'vulture cafeteria', which is a feeding site for vultures on one section of the mountain.

In 2008, Girnar, which is located close to the Asiatic lion habitat in Gir forest, was declared a sanctuary making it mandatory for the Union environment ministry to approve any project.

Ramesh visited the sanctuary last month and wanted the ropeway to launch either from Datar or Bhesan. The minister also said towers that connect the cable to run the cars should be taller and have high resolution cameras to monitor movement of the predator birds.

Forest officials have objected to the alternative plan, saying pilgrims would have to go 35 km further to Bhesan from Bhavnath Taleti to reach the ropeway launch. "If we launch it from Datar, they will have to climb the mountain first to access the ropeway," said a forester.

"The present ropeway alignment passes 50 metres away from the nesting site and the distance between two cars is about 500 metres and hence it would in no way affect the site," said Deepak Kapilesh of Usha Breco, which is doing the ropeway project for the government. Pilgrims now have to climb 5,000 steps to reach the top and elders are carried in dolis. So the state government proposed a 2.5-km ropeway running over 13 towers. Girnar has for centuries been one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Gujarat for both Hindus and Jains.

It's a tightrope walk at Girnar
Minister's suggestions difficult to adopt

The alternatives suggested to the proposed ropeway alignment hope to minimise the man-animal conflict in Girnar Wildlife Sanctuary. But these may be difficult to implement. The project was given in-principle clearance on Monday by Union environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh.

He estimated that ropeway project in its present form will affect 20-25% of the total population of long-billed vultures in Gujarat. These form less than 10% of the total vultures in the state. Apart from making it easier to reach the hilltop, the ropeway would also put an end to socially unacceptable palanquins that are used at present, Ramesh added.

The minister criticised state government for delay in the project. His letter of approval said the project had been hanging fire since September 1995 and till 2008, the area was under the state government. "But, it is only after the Girnar reserve forest was changed into the Girnar Wildlife Sanctuary in May 2008, that central government approval has been necessitated. Thus, from 1995 to 2008, there was no need for any central government approval had the state government decided to go ahead with the project," the minister said in his letter.

State forests officials said it was not only environment activists who were holding up the project, but also there were delays in acquiring land and handing it over to Usha Breco, contractor for building the ropeway. Between 2000 and 2005, forest department realised that lions from Gir had strayed into this area. And it was forced to delay transfer of land. In 2006, the Union ministry decided to examine the proposed ropeway. The state government gave land to Usha Breco on February 5, 2008, which applied for environmental clearance. Post this, vulture conservationists started opposing the project.

1. Explore alternate ropeway routes from Datar or Bhesan side to minimize disturbance to the nesting, roosting and ranging sites of long-billed vultures
2. Increase height of towers to avoid disturbance to nesting sites
3. Install high resolution camera on ninth tower to watch vultures and prevent cable cars from hitting them
4. To build a 'vulture cafeteria' to provide supplement feed to the vultures and divert them from the ropeway area
5. Impose a cess of Rs 5 per ticket or 2 % of the ticket turnover revenue, whichever is higher, to collect funds for lion conservation
6. A technical monitoring group of state forest officers and volunteers should be formed to advise on safety and other issues

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