Gujarat won't part with its pride
DNA By Jumana Shah
The threat of Gujarat losing its hegemony over hosting the last breed of Asiatic Lions is getting real. Last month, during a hearing of the Asiatic lion relocation case in Supreme Court, the forest Bench of Justices KS Radhakrishnan and CK Prasad had remarked that the lions are not the "property" of the state but belong to the nation.
Following further arguments this Monday, opinion of the State Wildlife Board (SWLB) has now been sought by SC. Geared up for defence, a sudden meeting of the SWLB chaired by Narendra Modi has been called on Friday in Sachivalaya with the main agenda to discuss the arguments to be presented in the court, so as not to share the lions "under any circumstances" with Madhya Pradesh's Kuno Palpur Sanctuary.
Even as the arguments are continuing, forest officials in Gujarat fear the worst. SC has also observed that the court's concern is conserving the critically endangered species, rather than fighting over the ownership of the lions. Gujarat's counsel Hemantika Vahi told DNA, "We are not disputing that they are national property. Our main argument is the limited prey base and poaching incidents reported from MP."
Hearing of the case has been scheduled for every Monday in the Supreme Court. Arguments of the SWLB will be heard coming Monday, where the National Board for Wildlife in India (NBWLI) and MP officials have also been asked to remain present.
The NBWLI has supported the movement of a few prides to MP to save them from any epidemic and maintaining genetic diversity. Wildlife activist Faiyaz Khudsar had filed a PIL in the SC requesting the translocation of the lions from Gir to Kuno on the grounds that a singular epidemic can wipe out the entire population.
Despite the ongoing assembly session, chief minister Narendra Modi is expected to chair the meeting. "He has been personally following this matter since the case was filed in 2006," a senior forester said. Modi has taken over as chairman of SWLB since 2004, earlier held by the state's forest minister. Though the neighbouring state is governed by BJP, Modi's equations with CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan are not known to be the best and the lions are believed to have contributed to it.
State government has passionately refused to part with the lions and Modi has publicly 'promised' that "Gujarat's lions will not leave the state". Sources in the SWLB assert that the establishment is still in "no mood to part with the lions".
Significantly, all of the nine members on the board seem to be in agreement. "Like the Narmada Dam project, this is a very sensitive issue involving Gujarati pride and ego. It is out and out a political issue. People of Saurashtra and politicians are on the same page on this," a member of the board said.
The lion population has witnessed a healthy rise in the last two decades in Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in Junagadh. The last census in 2010 pegged their numbers at 411 in the region. However, the issue of relocating some lions to neighbouring MP has gained momentum.
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