Friday, February 25, 2011

In fallen Jethava’s Kodinar, locals rise to hold fort

In fallen Jethava's Kodinar, locals rise to hold fort
Indian Express By Hiral Dave

"This land is the only thing we can call ours. How can we just let it get ruined by industrial pollution?" asks 24-year-old fresh BSc graduate Mayur Parmar, pointing at his farm located a stone's throw away from Arabian Sea in south and reserved forest area in the north, at Kaj village in Kodinar taluka of Junagadh district.

This is now site for proposed thermal power station and a jetty by Shapporji Pallanji Energy (Gujarat) Limited.

Mayur claims that to prevent him from raising the same question at the environment clearance public hearing for project held in November 2010, he was threatened by Junagadh BJP MP Dinu Solanki's man. Later, he was manhandled, he claimed, by Solanki's men and not allowed to speak at all at the hearing presided over by district collector A M Parmar.

Requesting a re-hearing, Mayur and 43 other farmers from Kaj, Sarkhadi, Chhar, Valen and Kodinar have joined hands with social activist Balu Socha and have since filed a PIL at the Gujarat High Court. The PIL lists alleged obstructive roles of both the MP and the district collector. It says the MP spoke openly in favour of the project while the collector did not allow many farmers who wanted to raise objections to speak . The power plant has been proposed at Kaj village and the site for jetty to import coal is to come up at Chhara village. The distance between these two is about three kms.

This second PIL from the small town of Kodinar comes less than a year after environment and RTI activist Amit Jethava was murdered allegedly at the behest of Solanki's nephew Shiva for raising the issue of rampant illegal mining at Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and Kodinar border through a PIL.

The natural resources like forest and mines in the area, the locals say, have been exploited for years under protection from political leadership. In 1982 came Ambuja Cement, followed by Siddhi Cement and then GHCL at Sutrapada. The villagers say illegal mining sites to provide limestone to cement factories have mushroomed. Many are owned by Solanki and his family members.

For long before Jethava lost his life, lawlessness has reigned in Kodinar. The slain activist had sought to know, through an RTI query to police, the reasons behind 20 suspicious deaths during 1991 to 2007 in Kodinar. Dhirsinh Barad, who won Kodinar Assembly by-election in 2009 after Junagadh incumbent BJP MP Dinu Solanki vacated the seat, had even written a letter in 2004 to the then Governor Naval Kishor Sharma, demanding reopening of 11 closed cases alleging direct involvement of Solanki.

Between 2000 to 2009, as many as six cases with serious charges against have been registered with Kodinar police against Pratap alias Shiva Solanki . These range from assault to attempt to murder, but five cases have been closed due to lack of evidence while the sixth is against unidentified persons though complainants claimed to have named Shiva.

Like Jethava, Mayur and his associates Ranjitsinh Parmar (35) and Balu Socha too fear for life. But this time, a group of farmers are united. "We do get calls from unknown numbers and unknown people threatening us to end agitation. But we are ready to face anything," says Ranjitsinh.

They have done their homework well. Mayur would spend hours on the Internet, finding environment laws and rules to compare them with the project proposal for Shapporji Pallanji Energy (Gujarat) Limited.

"Project report says it will need 4.5 million tonnes of milestone. However, it doesn't mention from where it will be procured. Besides, once the plant starts functioning, noise pollution in the area is likely to go up to 90db(a), which is even higher than 75db(a) for industrial area. One km from the power station site is the reserved forest area, where Asiatic Lions come during summer. In fact, connecting kaccha road between coal jetty and thermal power plant is transitory route for Asiatic Lions," says Mayur, adding that "within 9-km radius, there are five bandaras (water bodies) that supply irrigation water to several villages in taluka".

A Coastal Area Environment Protection Committee has been formed to create awareness. The committee has a representative each each various communities including the Rajputs, Kolis and Muslims who inhabit the five affected villages. After group's voice was allegedly suppressed at the public hearing in November 2010, several meetings with villagers were conducted by the representatives. By January 24, farmers were coming forward to become petitioners.

Popat Barad, a 70-year-old farmer from Chhara, says, "They (company) asked me to sell off my 150 bighas of land. They offered me Rs. 5 lakh per bigha. But my question is what will I do after selling off my land?" Barad says he reaps crops worth Rs. 5 lakh per season and grows several crops including coconut, groundnut, wheat and sunflower.

Balu Socha, who also runs Samudra Surakha Sangh for fishermen, is one of the petitioners. "It is too difficult to get agricultural land somewhere else once a farmer sells his ancestral land," he says.

Together, now they are waiting for the PIL outcome.

Despite repeated attempts, Solanki could not be contacted.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Power corp dropped Kodinar project over green concerns

Power corp dropped Kodinar project over green concerns
Indian Express By Hiral Dave

* Now a consortium is working on greendfield port and power plant project at site

The Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited (GSECL) had dropped a site in Kodinar taluka of Junagadh district last year for a proposed thermal power plant for two reasons: the site fell under the Coastal Regulatory Zone(CRZ) and the land was agricultural. But the same site has now been allocated to Shapporji Pallanji Energy (Gujarat) Private Limited (SPEL) for a power plant and a coal jetty project.

There are also three reserved forest areas and five water bodies within a radius of 9 km from the proposed site. These reserve forests at Sarkhai, Nanavad and Chhara, located in the periphery of Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, are the migratory routes for the Asiatic lions.

The site in question involves five villages in Kodinar taluka – Sarkhadi, Chhara, Kaj, Velan and Kodinar. GSECL was planning two 800 MW coal-based power plants, while SPEL has proposed to set up two 660 MW plants and a coal jetty for which the public hearing on environment clearance was held in November 2010.

In a letter to Kodinar MLA Dhirsinh Barad, dated May 27 2010, D J Pandiyan, Principal Secretary, Energy and Petrochemicals said: "Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited had considered Chhara and Sarkhadi for two 800 MW power plants, but the project has been dropped as these villages fall under CRZ and has rich agricultural land." A copy of the letter is with The Indian Express. The letter also contained an attached letter by P H Rana, Managing Director, GSECL, which said: "For two 800 MW power plant that GSECL had been considering to build, a proposal to the collector had been sent to acquire land at Sarkhadi, Kaj and Velan villages. But as large part of site comes under CRZ, the proposal was dropped. Later on, site at Chhara village was considered but as a large part was found to be agricultural land, the proposal was again dropped."

Nevertheless, the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) conducted a public hearing last November in connection with the development of Greenfield Port at Chhara by the SPEL – AFCONS – Forbes consortium for the proposed thermal power plants of 1,320 MW capacity within the revenue limits of Kaj village. The distance between the proposed coal-based thermal power plants and the Greenfield Port at Chhara village is about three km.

Villagers have alleged that Junagadh MP Dinu Solanki and District Collector A M Parmar did not allow them to raise environment issues. They have since filed a PIL with the High Court demanding re-hearing of the matter. The HC has issued notice to the state government and the Centre in response to the PIL.

Barad said: "The land is very fertile and the villagers grow two crops per season, which includes groundnut, wheat, coconut, sunflower and sugarcane. I don't have any idea why permission has been given to SPEL, when the state government's own company did not feel right to go ahead for environment reasons. We are not against industrialisation, but blind progress."

Industry Commissioner G G Swain denied having details of the project with his department. Pandiyan said: "Shapporji Pallanji Energy Limited have proposed a power plant at Kodinar. But I have no knowledge that earlier GSECL had considered the same site. Land acquisition is a matter between the collectorate and the private parties when a company purchases it from farmers."

When SPEL reportedly began purchasing farmland from the locals, Parmar maintained that the site does not cover agricultural land or comes under CRZ.

Jagu Kamaliya, deputy sarpanch of Charra village, however, said: "The company contacted us for some 1,000 bigha in our village near the sea. It is very much under CRZ. The company also contacted us to buy our farms. So it is wrong to say that it is not agricultural land." The villagers claim they have been offered Rs. 2 to 5 lakh per bigha for their agricultural land.

Parmar added: "This time, the survey has been done from a different angle. The site no longer falls under CRZ or includes agricultural land."

The site of the proposed power plant in Kodinar taluka of Junagadh district. Express Photo

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Gujarat seeks Central nod for ring road around Gir

Gujarat seeks Central nod for ring road around Gir

Gujarat on Monday asked the Centre to sanction funds for building a ring road around the famous Gir Sanctuary as part of efforts to protect and conserve Asiatic Lions in the region.

Gujarat Forest and Environment Minister Mangubhai Patel made the demand during a meeting with Union Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh here.

He asked Ramesh to approve Rs 600 crore for constructing ring road around Gir Lion Sanctuary for protection and conservation of the lions.

During the meeting, Patel also requested Ramesh that the Compensatory Afforestation Management Fund (CAMPA) due to Gujarat be released as soon as possible.

The Gujarat Government has a total provision of Rs 485 crore for compensatory funds parked with Centre, which includes Rs 132.63 crore towards compensatory afforestation and Rs 349.72 crore towards net present value.

Patel said that adhoc CAMPA has been released so far by the central government in two instalments for Gujarat amounting to Rs 24.96 crore and Rs 29.16 crore which was "utterly inadequate".

He also requested Ramesh to release fund for 'State Forest Development Agency' and the 'Greening India Programme' schemes.

Gujarat Minister of State for Forest & Environment Kiritsinh Rana, Principal Secretary, Forest & Environment SK Nanda and Principal Chief Conservator of Forest Pradeep Khanna were also present during the meeting.

Gujarat declares six zones as ‘eco-fragile’

Gujarat declares six zones as 'eco-fragile'
DNA By Paras K Jha

Before the Supreme Court takes any punitive action, the state government took the initiative and has declared six areas in the state as 'eco fragile' zones. The notification will be published in the central government gazette in next couple days.

Talking about the 'eco fragile' zones, the principal secretary for state forest and environment department, SK Nanda said, "The Supreme Court had directed all states in the country to identify such 'eco fragile' zones. Moreover the apex court had also said that if any state would fail to identify such eco fragile zones, it will decide such zones in that particular state on their own and the area may be extend up to 10 sq kilometers."

An 'eco fragile' zone is an area which has unique environment and where the ecological balance should be maintained. Nanda further said, "We have identified Vansada, Girnar, Narayan Sarovar, Gir, Danta Amirgadh and area of Ratanmahal to Jambughoda as these sensitive zones. An average area of 1 to 5 sq km has been set as the boundary. Now such areas will not have any sort of mining, blasting, industry or any kind of activities, which may be harmful to the environment (trees, soil, water, flora and fauna) of these areas in the prescribed boundaries under 'eco fragile' zone."

However, it seems that after the declaration of these areas as eco fragile zones, there may be problems in setting up hotels in Gir, or industries in Vansada, or any kind of mining activities in Narayan Sarovar area."While identifying these areas as 'eco fragile' zones, we have taken into consideration the interests of people living in these areas, wildlife, livestock," Nanda said.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

State seeks Rs600 crore for road around Gir sanctuary

State seeks Rs600 crore for road around Gir sanctuary

The state government has asked the Centre to approve Rs600 crore for constructing a ring road around the Gir Lion Sanctuary for protection and conservation of lions.

State forest and environment minister Mangu Patel raised the demand when he called on his counterpart at the centre, Jairam Ramesh on Monday.

During the discussion, Patel urged that the union government should approve the funds for building the road. He also sought quick release of funds from Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority Fund (CAMPA).

The Gujarat minister said that the state government has a total provision of Rs485 crore for compensatory funds parked with Centre, which includes Rs132.63 crore towards compensatory afforestation and Rs349.72 crore towards net present value.

Patel said that the union government has so far released ad-hoc funds of Rs24.96 crore and Rs29.16 crore in two installments from CAMPA. He said that the released funds were grossly inadequate, and urged for release of more funds.

He also requested for release of funds for State Forest Development Agency and under the Greening India Programme. He also called for establishment of a national level biodiversity institute in Jamnagar or Kutch.

Ramesh assured that he would look into the issues and sort them out at the earliest. He also accepted the invitation to visit Gujarat.
Minister of state for forest and environment Kiritsinh Rana, principal secretary, forest and environment, SK Nanda, and principal chief conservator of forests Pradeep Khanna, were also present during the meeting.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Second chargesheet filed in Amit Jethava murder case

Second chargesheet filed in Amit Jethava murder case
Times of India

The city crime branch on Friday filed a voluminous supplementary chargesheet in the RTI activist Amit Jethava murder case. The report was filed after the arrest of the sixth accused Shailesh Pandya, who is a sharpshooter.

One Bahadursinh Rathod, who is believed to have helped the accused persons in carrying out illegal mining activities in the prohibited Gir sanctuary, has been shown as an absconder in the chargesheet. The investigating agency has been maintaining that Pandya had fired on Jethava on July 20, last year in front of the Gujarat high court campus.

Five persons, including Shiva Solanki, who is a nephew of BJP MP from Junaghadh Dinu Bogha Solanki, were arrested by the police. They were chargesheeted last year. Pandya was arrested after the first chargesheet was filed. Jethava was killed after he filed a PIL in the high court against illegal mining activities in the Gir sanctuary.

He had accused the BJP MP of indulging in the activity and sought action against him. After the murder, Jethava's family members accused the BJP MP of murdering Jethava.

During a hearing on Jethava's PIL earlier this week, the high court expressed satisfaction over the state government's actions to curb illegal mining and the judges proposed to dispose of the petition. On getting a nod from the counsel of Jethava's family, the high court disposed of the PIL.

Meanwhile, Jethava's father moved the high court demanding CBI probe in the murder case. This petition is pending in the high court.

Can’t satisfy all demands of green activists: Jairam

Can't satisfy all demands of green activists: Jairam
Indian Express

Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh Thursday said it was not possible for him to satisfy all legitimate demands of environmentalists.

"You have to understand the pressures I work under..... it is a difficult balancing act," he said in his keynote address at the launch of the Saving Asia's Vultures from Extinction (SAVE) initiative at the World Wildlife Fund's office in New Delhi.

The minister cited the ropeway to Ambaji temple atop the Girnar mountain as an example of the difficulties of his job. Environmentalists had opposed the cable car project as the proposed route — which was later re-aligned — would go through Girnari Vulture nesting sites.

"The vulture people descended upon me," he said in a lighter vein to his audience which consisted of a number of eminent personalities on the subject. "But the ropeway was needed as that was the only way we could stop the abominable practice of humans carrying wealthy pilgrims on palanquins all the way to the top," he said.

He hinted at a more important role for state governments in preserving the environment. "Incentives for states must improve if they are to keep rivers clean and mountains pristine," he said.

Ramesh said conservation efforts should not be seen in isolation. "Start thinking of forests; stop thinking of the tiger. We wanted to get children interested in efforts to clean the Ganga; we used the Gangetic dolphin as a symbol... Reintroducing the cheetah is reclaiming our grasslands," he said.

Ramesh said his ministry would launch a major initiative for Gharial in a week.

Ramesh launches consortium to save vultures

Ramesh launches consortium to save vultures
Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh today launched "Saving Asia''s Vultures from Extinction" (SAVE) Consortium at a function here.

The SAVE Consortium has been launched as a group of multi-national vulture experts in order to coordinate the work of the second phase of vulture conservation and to meet the myriad challenges.

SAVE will be instrumental in advocacy, campaigning and fund-raising for the cause.
Addressing the gathering, Ramesh justified his decision to give in principle clearance for a ropeway project from the foothills of Mount Girnar to Ambaji Temple in Girnar wildlife sanctuary, famous for its lions and vultures.

Admitting that he had come under attack from the environmentalists who apprehended its adverse impact on the habitat of endangered vultures, the minister said the project was cleared to end an age-old inhuman practice in the shrine where doli bearers ferry "merchants" from Mumbai and Ahmedabad up the hill.

Terming it as "serious inhuman issue," he said this mode of transportation to the holy hills of Jains and Hindus was "unacceptable" in this century.

On the occasion, Prof Ian Newton, Chairman, SAVE Consortium, said, "In terms of urgency this is probably the greatest bird conservation problem in the world. Three vulture species have reduced by over 99 per cent within just 15 years and still declining."
"It is the first time that a veterinary drug has been implicated in a major conservation problem and we need to take it seriously. It involves not just the loss of three species, but also a huge environmental hygiene problem," he said.

Bombay Natural History Society director Dr Asad R Rahmani said that without removing the killer-drug diclofenac, it will be difficult to recover the vulture population.
He urged the government to see that veterinary use of diclofenac is totally prohibited all over India.

Lion-hearted pride adopts 15-mth-old cub

Lion-hearted pride adopts 15-mth-old cub
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik

A pride of lions feeds on a hunted buffalo in Gir forest. At the dinner table are five cubs. One of these cubs is adopted, a rare feature in a lion pride. And this happened in Gir forest, the only home of the Asiatic lion in the world.

An officer of the social forestry department found a 15-month-old cub
abandoned by its mother on the outskirts of Bagasara town in Amreli district three months ago.

Taking the cub from the wild to a zoo would be against the interest of conservation, and leaving it in the wild might mean it would become a meal. So foresters hit upon a plan and took the cub to a different territory 50 km away and left it with a completely new lion pride. Three months later, it is a happy family of five cubs with their parents — a lion and 2 lionesses.

The cub, now 18 months old, has a new home in this pride in Hadala range of east Gir. Usually a pride does not accept a cub from another pride. So after releasing the sub-adult cub in the pride in Hadala, the field staff continuously watched the beasts and how they behaved with the new member. "Two females in the group came near the cub. We feared an attack, but these females drove the cub into the group," said M Raja, deputy conservator of forest, Gir east.

Additional conservator of forest (social forestry) H S Singh says this is the first time he saw such acceptance in his 30-year stint with Gujarat forests.

Ravi Chellam, director of Wildlife Conservation Society, finds it hard to accept that lions which are social animals would abandon a cub easily. "Chances of adoption of a 3-4-monthold female cub are more than a subadult female cub which would not be easily accepted," says Chellam.

Yadvendradev Jhala, head of the animal ecology and conservation department, Wildlife Institute of India, says, "Normally, females in the group do not accept a female easily. This is an established phenomenon. Women usually promote females from their own family and this adoption of another female is a rare phenomenon."

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.

Monday, February 14, 2011

First vulture chick born at Sakkarbaug zoo

First vulture chick born at Sakkarbaug zoo
Times of India By Vijaysinh Parmar

In a significant development for the conservation of the endangered white backed vultures, the Sakkarbaug zoo here has succeeded in breeding vultures in captivity. A chick was born at the zoo's Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centre on February 1.

According to zoo director V J Rana this is good news for the species which faces extinction. Sakkarbaug is one of the five captive vulture breeding centres in the country.

The vulture breeding aviary was started in the zoo in April 2009 with 43 vultures and this is the first chick to be born. "We have created all the required facilities at the centre such as artificial nesting sites and trees. We maintained its food habits regularly and success came after one-and-a-half years,'' Rana said.

Forest officials say that only Pinjore Vulture Breeding Centre in Haryana has succeeded in breeding vultures in captivity. "We have been closely monitoring the chick and its mother and are hopeful of further other eggs hatching as well. November to March is considered as breeding seasons for the vulture.

Among the 43 vultures here are the white backed vulture, long billed vultures and Egyptian vultures, which have been rescued from various parts of the state such as Ahmedabad, Rajula, Bajana, Surat, Gandhinagar Dhrangdhra, Vyara, Amreli, Morbi and Junagadh. "Most of these vultures were injured by kite strings during the kite festival,'' said Rana.

Conservationists say that the major cause for the decline of vulture population is the veterinary drug, Diclofenac, which are most widely used veterinary pain killers.

Sakkarbaug zoo is known for its conservation programmes. Currently, the zoo is running conservation and breeding programmes for the Asiatic lion, vultures, Indian wolf, Indian wild ass, Asiatic cheetah and the four-horned antelope with aid from the Central Zoo Authority of India.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Not lions, but vultures cause of worry

Not lions, but vultures cause of worry
Indian Express By Kapil Dave

The reserved forest is a sanctuary to the surviving Asiatic lion species, but it is the Long Billed Vulture locally known as Girnari Giddh, a critically endangered species, whose concern affects the ropeway project.

Now scattered across Sindh in Pakistan and various parts of India, they are found to be surviving mostly in Gir in Gujarat. Use of dicolfenac in cattle feed is considered one of the main reasons behind their extinction.

In September 2009, environmentalists came around in Junagadh to raise awareness for their survival on the occasion of International Vulture Awareness Day, while constant lobbying by wildlife enthusiasts to protect the bird is on.

Former Gujarat minister of state for environment and forest Kiritsinh Rana, had in reply to a question on February 20, 2009 during Question hour in the Assembly, admitted that the vulture population in Gujarat had reduced from 2,647 in 2005 to 1,431 in 2007.

Incidentally, Gujarat is among the first states in India to ban the use of diclofenac.

‘MoEF condition may make Girnar ropeway non-viable’

'MoEF condition may make Girnar ropeway non-viable'
Indian Express By Hiral Dave

First of six conditions is alternative alignment from

Bhesan to mountain top

The very first of the six conditions laid down by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) while giving its in-principle nod to the Girnar Ropeway project (using an alternative alignment) may render it non-feasible from the environment and tourism point of view, say experts.

This simply means re-doing the project from scratch, from a whole new design to land acquisition, which in proposed alignment will mean incorporating several kilometres of land in the heart of Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, they have said. Besides, Junagadh is the main city and the tourist centre, unlike Bhesan, which is a small town some 26 km in the interiors of south-west of Junagadh.

Union Minister Jairam Ramesh has in a letter to the state government listed out six conditions including completely changing the alignment of the ropeway.

He said the state government will conduct a study to consider alternate alignment of the ropeway project, preferably along the Bhesan side with a view to ensure that it does not cut across the prime vulture habitat, and also minimises disturbance to their nesting, roosting and ranging sites of the long-billed vultures and other wildlife species and submit a report within two months.

As per the current blueprint, the alignment is along Bhavnath Taleti, which is on the foothills of Mount Girnar. Bhavnath Taleti is a revenue area and along with that revenue area, seven hectares of Gir Reserve Forest area has been developed for the ropeway project at a cost of Rs 90 crore. The ropeway distance between Bhavnathi Taleti to Ambaji is 2.3 km and the ropeway height is 850 metres.

Deepak Kaplish, western region head of Usha Breco Limited, which has been awarded the ropeway project, said: "Bhesan is located exactly on the backside of Bhavnath Taleti. To reach Bhesan from Bhavnath Taleti one has to walk 35 km through Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and by road it is 26 km from Vadal, a village some 10 km from Junagadh city. If we consider changing the alignment to Bhesan, as per preliminary survey, we need to acquire forest land, and the project is likely to disturb wildlife, which is the only habitat of the Asiatic lions."

He added: "But as per the ministry's order, Usha Breco Limited has begun a detailed survey and will submit a report to the state forest department within two months."

Local politicians from different parties who have been rooting for the project for a couple of decades now also opined that to the alter alignment to Bhesan is nearly impossible.

"I do not think it is possible. It's a dense forest area. Bhavnath Taleti, which is a revenue site, is the best possible option," said Junagadh BJP MLA Mahendra Mashru.

Congress leader and Junagadh Mayor Satish Virda said: "The alignment from Bhesan is not possible. The ministry has made a suggestion. We can do a study and submit back the facts. It will be up to the state government to choose the site."

Girnar ropeway will 'sound death knell for Gir vultures̢۪

Girnar ropeway will 'sound death knell for Gir vultures̢۪
DNA By Jumana Shah

"It was expected, but it has still come as a shock. There is no hope now for the 'Girnari Giddh' species; it will be extinct very soon," said, a wildlife conservationist Dinesh Goswami who was part of the team that had undertaken the vulture census in Girnar in 2010. He was referring to the ministry of environment and forests' green signal for the construction of ropeway in the Girnar Wildlife Sanctuary in Junagadh, the only home to Asiatic lions.
The sentiment angrily voiced by the activist of Kodinar-based

Prakruti Nature Club pretty much reflects the sentiment shared by most of the vulture conservationists across the board, including member of National Board for Wildlife in India (NBWLI), Divyabhanusinh Chavda. He was a part of the two-member committee who had visited the site last December.

In the report submitted by him, it had been categorically stated that the project has a possibility of leading to the local extinction of the 'Girnari Giddh,' a critically endangered species listed in Schedule I under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The report had advised against the construction of a ropeway.

Moreover, sources have indicated that the six conditions sought in principle approval are also not likely to be fulfilled. "This is the most viable route; the plan had been submitted after intense research. Realignment is not likely," the source said.

This apart, the political tug-of-war over claiming the credit over the sanctioning of the project is also intriguing. When Ramesh was here last month, Congress president Siddharth Patel had met him to make a presentation declaring Congress's support to the project. On Monday, as soon as news of the project clearance trickled in, Patel rushed to Delhi to claim credit.

"Local BJP and Congress politicians have cornered a lot of land around the hill. The land prices in the area have been rising since the last few months, and on Monday itself, it was heard that the prices skyrocketed anew," a source said.

Minstry ofenvironment and forests conditions for ropeway approval

*   State government to conduct a study to consider alternate alignment of the ropeway project, preferably along the Dattar/Bhesan side. To submit a positive report within 2 months
*    The 9th and 10th tower's height of ropeway will be raised to avoid disturbance to nesting sites
*    A camera of high resolution will be placed on the 9th tower to monitor movement of vulture
*    A cafeteria for vultures will be constructed at an appropriate location which will be decided in consultation with experts
*    A cess of Rs5 per ticket or 2% of the ticket turnover revenue to be imposed and revenue generated from this will be handed over to the Gir Lion Conservation Society.
*    Forest department, experts from BNHS, WWF and other local voluntary organisations will constitute a technical monitoring group to advise on safety protocols

Jairam clears Gujarat ropeway project with vulture rider

Jairam clears Gujarat ropeway project with vulture rider
Times of India

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

Ramesh allowed the project on the condition that the state government will explore an alternate route for cable cars to reach the top from Bhavnath Taleti near Junagadh town, skirting vulture nesting sites. Environment activists had been opposing the project because it would disturb the nesting of the endangered Girnari giddh (vultures).

The Gujarat government would have to set up a 'vulture cafeteria', a feeding site for vultures on one section of the mountain, Ramesh said. So, municipal authorities would have to dump animal carcasses here for vultures to feed.

Girnar, located close to the Asiatic lion habitat in Gir forest, was declared a sanctuary in 2008.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Ramesh’s plan not feasible, say government, contractor

Ramesh's plan not feasible, say government, contractor
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik

The state forest department and the ropeway operator have found faults with Union minister Jairam Ramesh's alternatives proposed for the Girnar ropeway. They say that if it launches from Datar, the pilgrim will have to climb up to Bhavnath Taleti to get on to a cable car. This will hinder the vulture nesting site. In case of the second alternative, if launched from Bhesan, this cable will pass through the home of the Asiatic lions in Gir Sanctuary.

"The purpose is to give a smooth ride to the pilgrims. If we were to start an alignment from Bhesan, it would mean that the pilgrims after visiting Bhavnath, an important destination, will have to travel 35 km to catch the ropeway. From Datar, they will have to climb halfway before catching the ropeway," said Deepak Kapilesh of Usha Breco, the contractor for the project.

For starting from Bhesan, the authorities will have to construct a road for pilgrims which will create trouble for lions in the protected area and dolis will have to be used to carry elderly pilgrims in case of a Datar connection, said forest officials. Kapilesh added that Bhesan was too far from the hill to connect by cable.

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

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Non-violence in Lion Kingdom

Non-violence in Lion Kingdom
Times of India

Inscriptions At The Rock Edict In Girnar Give An Insight Into The Mind Of Ashoka

Frown on animal slaughter

Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, has caused this Dhamma edict to be written. Here (in my domain) no living beings are to be slaughtered or offered in sacrifice. Nor should festivals be held, for Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, sees much to object to in such festivals, although there are some festivals that Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, does approve of.

Green revolution

Wherever medical herbs suitable for humans or animals are not available, I have had them imported and grown. Wherever medical roots or fruits are not available I have had them imported and grown. Along roads I have had wells dug and trees planted for the benefit of humans and animals.

Saving is good

Everywhere in my domain the Yuktas, the Rajjukas and the Pradesikas shall go on inspection tours every five years for the purpose of Dhamma instruction and also to conduct other business. Respect for mother and father is good, generosity to friends, acquaintances, relatives, Brahmans and ascetics is good, not killing living beings is good, moderation in spending is good.

For successors to follow

This edict has been written so that it may please my successors to devote themselves to promoting these things and not allow them to decline. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, has had this written twelve years after his coronation. This Dhamma edict has been written on stone so that it might endure long and that my descendants might act in conformity with it.

Keep up the good work

To do good is difficult. One who does good first does something hard to do. I have done many good deeds, and, if my sons, grandsons and their descendants up to the end of the world act in like manner, they too will do much good. But whoever amongst them neglects this, they will do evil. Truly, it is easy to do evil.

An alert ruler

In the past, state business was not transacted nor were reports delivered to the king at all hours. But now I have given this order, that at any time, whether I am eating, in the women's quarters, the bed chamber, the chariot, the palanquin, in the park or wherever, reporters are to be posted with instructions to report to me the affairs of the people so that I might attend to these affairs wherever I am.

Religious harmony

All religions should reside everywhere, for all them desire self-control and purity of heart. But people have various desires and various passions, and they may practise all of what they should or only a part of it. But one who receives great gifts yet is lacking in selfcontrol, purity of heart, gratitude and firm devotion, such a person is mean.

Generosity pays

What does bear great fruit, however, is the ceremony of the Dhamma. This involves proper behaviour towards servants and employees, respect for teachers, restraint towards living beings, and generosity towards ascetics and Brahmans

Don't kill, don't deport

Indeed, Beloved-of-the-Gods is deeply pained by the killing, dying and deportation that take place when an unconquered country is conquered.


Times of India

While the Nawab of Junagadh was among the first to bring in regulations to protect lions in the 19th century, the idea first came from Ashoka the Great in 257 B.C. Today, the lions' only home in the wild in Asia is around the Girnar mountain, which is also the site of early Ashoka edicts. From Mahavir to Buddha and from Ashoka to Harsha, Indian history is never complete without references to Gujarat

uch before the apostle of peace Mahatma Gandhi was born, the oldest rock edict of Ashoka in Girnar talks about non-violence. This is also one of the first evidences of written history. Ashoka's emblem is India's official emblem today. And the only trace of the Asiatic lion today is in Junagadh, the place where Ashoka's edict lies.

Located outside Junagadh, the edict says, "Belovedof-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, has caused this Dhamma edict to be written. Here (in my domain) no living beings are to be slaughtered or offered in sacrifice. Until then, hundreds of thousands of animals were killed every day in the kitchen of Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi." After the edict was written, only three creatures, two peacocks and a deer, were killed.

Ashoka's edicts were the first written inscriptions in India after the Harappan period. While the Nawab of Junagadh was among the first to bring in regulations to protect lions in the 19th century, the idea first came from Ashoka the Great in 257 B.C.

Ashoka's rock edict at Girnar talks about preservation over 2000 years back. Had Gujarat killed its lions, the emblem of India would not have been those majestic four Asiatic lions, standing back to back. The symbol is taken from Sarnath, Ashoka's capital. It's a great work of art and a symbol of India's pride, made possible only because Saurashtra protected the prides of lions in a corner of the peninsula.

Ashoka was the third monarch of the Mauryan dynasty in India, anointed as emperor in 274 BC, and is regarded as one of the most admirable rulers in world history. Although he is a major historical figure, little definitive information was known as there were no available records of his reign until the 19th century when a large number of his edicts, inscribed on rocks and pillars, were found in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. These edicts, of which Ashoka's major rock edict was the first and most impressive, were concerned with practical instructions in running a kingdom such as the design of irrigation systems and descriptions of Ashoka's beliefs in peaceful moral behaviour. They contain little personal detail about his life. He did not write the inscriptions in formal Sanskrit but used the vernacular spoken form called Prakrit. Ashoka's first edict is the only impressive edict remaining in its original state since most of his other edicts were either dismantled and transported to places of national importance after their discovery or formalised into a national monument.


The Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and the National School of Design came up much later. Gujarat was considered a seat of learning hundreds of years ago. Valabhi, the first independent capital of Gujarat under Maitraka dynasty which ruled Gujarat from 475 to 767 AD, housed a university which was wellknown across the globe. The founder of the dynasty, Senapati Bhatarka, was a military governor of Saurashtra peninsula under Gupta empire, who had established himself as the independent ruler of Gujarat in the last quarter of fifth century.

The Maitrakas ruled from Vallabhi and it was the first independent capital of the large empire of Gujarat. They came under the rule of Harsha in the mid-seventh century, but retained local autonomy and regained their independence after Harsha's death. Maitraka rule ended with the plunder of Valabhi by the barbarians in 524, according to historian James Tod and in second or third quarter of the 8th century by various other scholars.
Two Chinese scholars, Xuanzang and I-Tsing, described Valabhi (present-day Valabhipur near Bhavnagar), as a great seat of learning and business during the seventh century.

Chinese checkers:

Xuangzang writes he saw many millionaires in Valabhi. "Valabhi is a large area. The population is very dense; the establishments rich. There are some hundred or so, who possess a hundred lakhs. The rare and valuable products of distant regions are stored here in great quantities," wrote Xuangzang in his book Si-Yu-Ki. Buddhist monk I-Tsing compared two Indian universities, Nalanda and Valabhi with leading Chinese schools. "These two places are like Chin-Ma and Ling Men where eminent and accomplished men assemble, discuss possible and impossible doctrines, and having been assured of the excellence of their opinions by wise men, become far famed in their wisdom," he wrote. Rich Gujarati businessmen donated generously to the university.


Valabhi was a famous centre for Jain studies. A Jain conference was held in the fifth century where religious canons were re-compiled and edited. When Chinese traveller Xuangzang visited Valabhi during the second quarter of seventh century, he found its ruler to be a Buddhist follower. When I-Tsing, another Chinese traveller visited Valabhi in the last quarter of 7th century, he found the city as a great centre of learning including Buddhism. Gunamati and Sthiramati are stated to be two famous Buddhist scholars of Valabhi at the middle of seventh century. Valabhi was famous for its open-mindedness and the students from all over the country, including Brahmin boys, visited it to have higher education in secular and religious subjects.

Junagadh, the Buddhist centre of Gujarat

Junagadh, the Buddhist centre of Gujarat
Times of India

Junagadh has always been an important part of Gujarat's history. In fact, the recorded history of the state gets its first mention here in the form of Ashoka's edict. Apart from the edict, the place has many caves which are more than 2,000 years older with the construction period ranging between 1st and 4th century AD.

'Buddhist caves' around Uparkot are rooms carved out of stone to be used as monks' quarters, hence the name. They all are a little over 2,000 years old.

Baba Pyare caves lie close to Modhimath. The caves have a unified plan with a spacious court and a chaitya hall. The pillars and doors of the caves suggest a clear impact of art traditions of Satavahana's period and are dated to as back as 1st–2nd century AD on the basis of their architecture. There are 13 rooms in three stories cutting into the rock, about 45 meters high and are adorned with carvings of Buddhist symbols. They are in better shape than the Khapara Kodia caves.

The oldest caves at Khapara Kodia belong to 3rd-4th century AD and are plainest of all cave groups. These caves are situated along the edge of the ancient Sudarshan Lake (which no longer exists) and the northern side of Uparkot. The rectangle western wing and the 'L' shaped wing, used by the monks as a monsoon shelter, are the important parts of the caves. They were carved into living rock during the reign of Emperor Ashoka and are considered the earliest monastic settlements in the area. On the basis of many scribbling and short cursive letters on the wall, as recorded by Burgess, the caves have been dated to circa 3rd– 4th century AD.

Among all the Buddhist caves, the ones at Uperkot are the most important. Situated north–west of Jami Masjid, the cave group is in three tiers, with all members of each galleries shown in semi-relief, but only two storeys having regular floors. This group of caves are assigned to 2nd–3rd century AD.

State to convert 11 villages on Gir periphery to revenue land

State to convert 11 villages on Gir periphery to revenue land
Indian Express

Activist warns of commercial exploitation, increasing man-animal conflicts

The state government has decided to limit the Gir Sanctuary area, deleting 11 villages on its periphery and converting them to revenue land. This comes in the wake of a previous effort to create an extended Gir by increasing the boundaries to accommodate the increasing lion population.

Officials said the state government has in principle approved a proposal for the 'Rationalisation of Boundaries in Gir Sanctuary'. This proposal essentially means 1939.38 hectares of forest settlement villages will be converted to revenue land, while the reserve forest area to be declared as sanctuary will be limited at 2141.40 hectares.

There are 14 forest settlements in the sanctuary and 11 of these villages are located on the periphery. The other three villages are located inside the sanctuary. The proposal aims to convert the 11 villages on the periphery to revenue villages and delete the areas from the sanctuary limits.

The rationale behind the move is that these areas are under cultivation and no negative impact on the habitat is expected as a result of their deletion as they are not available to wildlife in any way.

"There are forest areas that are contiguous to the sanctuary. These may be added to the sanctuary for efficient wildlife conservation and provision of additional suitable habitat to wildlife," said P M Christian, Deputy Secretary, Forest and Wildlife Department.

He added: "The proposal is pending with the Government of India so its status is not known. The proposal is yet to get a final clearance."

Mahesh Pandya, an environment activist said the proposal of converting villages on the sanctuary periphery to revenue land will promote faster conversion of farm land to non-agriculture ones and promote commercial construction of hotels and the like.

"This will limit the space for wildlife and create major obstacle and increase man-animal conflicts. The Forest Department's logic that the areas are under cultivation and not used by animals for habitat is misleading. Lions and other animals have been restricted by villagers in the areas and fatal incidents have also been noticed in the past. Instances of lions falling in farm wells have also been reported which shows that lions and other animals can use the land if allowed."

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Maldharis want to live close to lions

Maldharis want to live close to lions
Times of India

The Maldhari community has written to Union forests and environment minister Jairam Ramesh requesting that they may not be moved out of the Gir sanctuary. They have said that the authorities should not consider them enemies of big cats.

The community has sent a memorandum to Ramesh through a non-government organisation, Setu, opposing the rehabilitation. Since 1972, the government has officially resettled 952 Maldhari families and many other inhabitants when the Gir national park was established. They say that these families have suffered badly as they were deprived of basic requirements like drinking and irrigation water, electricity, school and transportation facilities. The memorandum said that they did not even get the benefit of government schemes such as Rojgar Yojana and other welfare schemes.

They claim that the land they got was of poor quality and because of water shortage, cultivating that land was difficult. They also said that the eight acres of land which they got as the compensation put them in the category of big farmers and disqualified them from government schemes and thus made them poorer. A report by Gujarat government's directorate of evaluation on the rehabilitation programme of Gir Maldharis scheme said, "It has not been possible to achieve the objective of bringing the socio-economic uplift of the Gir Maldharis. On the contrary, the net income earned by the shifted families in 1986-87 is significantly less than the net income earned by families still inside, 10 years after rehabilitation."

Maldharis have also urged the minister and environment experts to understand that the lion has been part of their lives and culture. "They have been living together since centuries, without which, the survival of both is difficult. The Maldharis worship lions as one of their gods," the letter said.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

New plan to move Maldharis out of Gir

New plan to move Maldharis out of Gir
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik

Centre And State Government Clear Proposal; Forest Department Awaits Funds

The state forest department has decided to shift more than 400 Maldhari families staying in Gir sanctuary limits.

The move is part of a new plan which aims to reduce conflicts between villagers and lions that prey on their livestock.

The department will also shift 800 other families residing at Jambutala village. These families were moved earlier from the forest and brought to the village to resettle.

The plans are part of the Rs 262 crore Brihad Gir (Greater Gir) project aimed at lions' conservation. It will include, apart from shifting Maldharis, developing new sanctuaries in the Sasan-Bhavnagar stretch, where also the big cats are found these days. The rehabilitation of the Maldharis alone will cost Rs 179 crore.

The 2010 lion census revealed that lions have now found homes in Amreli, Junagadh and Bhavnagar districts. Forest officials said that according to the plan, each family relocated outside the sanctuary will get Rs 10 lakh as compensation.

Generations of Maldharis have been living inside the Gir forest and have consistently refuted state government's proposals to relocate them starting 1972. However, the government has worked out a compensation package which may be acceptable to them, said the forests officials.

The officials found that with the big cats moving out of the protected area, there was a threat to the Maldharis' lives. Also, an increase in livestock numbers had increased the pressure on the ecosystem within the sanctuary.

Gujarat's principal secretary for forest and environment SK Nanda told TOI that the Centre and state government had cleared the proposal and the department is now waiting for the money.

The plans are part of the Rs 262 crore Brihad Gir project aimed at lions’ conservation

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