Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ropeway will reduce labour of Girnar trek

Ropeway will reduce labour of Girnar trek
DNA By GA Patel

The proponent company desires to establish a ropeway from the foothills ofMount Girnar to Ambaji Temple at the top to cater to the pilgrim traffic.

There are approximately 10,000 steps en route and it takes anywhere between 4 and 6 hours for able bodied pilgrims to climb to the temple and more than that for old or infirm pilgrims who are actually ferried by doli bearers.

There are hundreds of small shops and stalls catering to the various needs of the pilgrims on the way. The trek is strenuous.

Therefore, besides materials like coconut, incense sticks etc required for worship, the pilgrims need water, snacks and other things on the way. All of these are provided by enterprising locals.

There is also the question of litter and refuse being generated and disposed of along the way due the aforesaid activities.

Girnar was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary in 2008. It is an important habitat for myriad variety of ungulates, birds and most significantly for a stable meta-population of two dozen or more lions that retain a dynamic genetic link with the main lion population of Gir.

Girnar is also rich in plants of medicinal value and in general floral biodiversity.

The entire area can be divided into three parts from the point of view of habitat use and suitability.

The lower portion, consisting of valleys, grasslands and fringes is suitable mainly for spotted deer and lions. The middle reaches are more suitable for sambhar and leopards whereas the higher reaches are by and large devoid of animal life except for a few specific nesting and roosting sites for vultures.

In this background it is the case of the proponent company that the proposed project, instead of leaning on the argument that it would cause minimal damage, actually makes a positive assertion to the fact that by causing a one time, reversible and revocable damage of miniscule proportions in the extreme short term, the project would actually cause a number of positive benefits to the area which would enhance it habitat value for the present denizens.

The total land based footprint of the project within Girnar Sanctuary is only about 8 ha. It consists of an embarkation station, a landing station and a few pylons in between to support the cables.

The number of trees required to be cut are minimal. Moreover, both the stations are situated in areas that even otherwise experience high disturbance due to pilgrim traffic.

Thus, establishment of these two stations is not likely to increase the disturbance any further. On the contrary channelising the pilgrim traffic it would actually reduce disorder at both points.

There are thousands of pilgrims who spend anywhere between ten to 20 hours in making one round trip and during which time they must necessarily cater to bodily needs of nourishment, thirst and nature's calls.

The ropeway will reduce the time spent by pilgrims inside the sanctuary by a huge factor. It is expected that a round trip should take on an average three to four hours or less depending upon the traffic at the temple as per different seasons.

Thus the project would reduce by a significant factor the total number of pilgrim man hours inside the sanctuary. By reducing this time it would entail that the needs of water, snacks and nature calls would also be drastically reduced. The arduousness of the trek would be eliminated.

The hundreds of shops and stalls en route could then be relocated conveniently near the embarkation and landing areas.

In doing so the total disturbance caused all along the route would be greatly reduced and would actually become limited to the two areas only. It would be possible then to devise a system for collection and disposal of waste and refuse and take it out of Gir Sanctuary.

This trash, presently, is strewn all along the steps. Some of it is not biodegradable while some of it being surplus food attracts scavenging.

The plastic litter is ingested by ungulates and ruminants. By providing a chance to make the route garbage-free the project actually has the potential of improving the habitat quality.

There would also be reduction in noise pollution due to the reduction in the total number of pilgrim man hours spent inside the sanctuary.

The proponent company operates a similar ropeway in Pavagadh, near Halol, in Panchmahal district. It is the claim of the proponent that the area today experiences virtually no pedestrian traffic on the trek from the bottom of Pavagadh to the top.

The area over a long duration has reverted to being a disturbance free forest. It is asserted that over a long duration the entire step route is likely to become devoid of human activity and would thus become a better habitat than it is now as a direct consequence of the project.

The project does not impinge in any way on the middle reaches and it has no negative or positive impacts thereon. The landing site at the top is on the opposite aspect of the hill where nesting and roosting site for vultures have been noticed.

In any case the project does not add to the disturbance that is any case being experienced now due to pilgrim activities. On the contrary by confining the anthropogenic activities in a small area and managing the pilgrim traffic in an orderly and an organized manner the project actually seeks to reduce the disturbance at the tip of the hill.

There are only 13 support towers that are required to be established en route and their footprints would be minimal.

Trees are required to be cut only in the area of the actual construction. Finally, by providing the visitors with a panoramic view of Girnar Sanctuary the proponents hope that the pilgrims would appreciate the habitat value of the area better and would thus help in raising awareness about the conservation value of forests in general and Girnar Sanctuary in particular.

All alternatives before site selection were considered and the present site was selected keeping in view the least possible damage to forests and biotic interference in the area.

Even a parliament committee headed by ex. forest minister GOI, Dr. Soze, along with 9 MPs visited the site in view of the 'Girnar Ropeway Project' issue raised by Mrs. Meneka Gandhi in parliament and they also agreed with the selection of the present site for the Ropeway Project.

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