Saturday, March 24, 2012

Work on lion safari begins in Etawah

Work on lion safari begins in Etawah
Times of India By Faiz Rahman Siddiqui

Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav's dream project of setting up a lion safari in Etawah, which was virtually dumped by the previous Mayawati government, is all set to see the light of the day with newly elected chief minister Akhilesh Yadav's nod and surveys being conducted on Friday.

The grandiose project, which has seen many legal wrangles in the last few years, will be Akhilesh's first gift to the people of his home district as well as of the state after becoming the chief minister.

His father Mulayam had gifted Saifai -- his home town in Etawah -- with a state-of-the-art medical institute, international stadium and an airstrip. The Mulayam government had mooted the proposal also keeping in mind the menace of dacoits who used to take shelter in the Fisher Forest area.

Nearly 150 hectares of land in Fisher Forest on Etawah-Gwalior highway, close to the National Chambal Sanctuary and ravines of the Yamuna had been acquired in 2005 during the Mulayam regime and was notified as a Lion Safari. Named after Fisher, collector of Etawah in 1888, the forest lies about 10 km from the Etawah district headquarters. Of the total cost of Rs 5.6 crore, Rs 1.04 crore had been allotted for the safari in 2005.

The project, however, was derailed after Mulayam's exit in 2007 after losing to the BSP.

With the SP thumping back to power in the state, the government has speeded up the project, first of its kind in the state to be established on the lines of Gir National Park and sanctuary in Gujarat, Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala, Nehru Zoological Park in Andhra Pradesh and Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Maharashtra.

Forest and wildlife department sources in Etawah confirmed that surveys have started for the proposed lion safari in the Fisher Forest area after instructions from the state government. On Friday, teams comprising of district forest officer Sudarshan Singh, Wildlife warden Shanker Dohre and range officer Mahaveer Prasad conducted a survey of the Fisher Forest.

"A team measured the area and we will conduct more surveys, which will be included in the report for successful commencement of the project," said a senior forest department official while talking to TOI.

"If all goes well, the project would be completed by October this year itself. "If all goes well, the project will take another five to six months for completion," Etawah district forest officer Sudarshan Singh told TOI on Friday. "The project has been sent for revision to the Central Zoo Authority, which will process it further and the work would start likely by the end of next month," he added.

Secretary, Society for Conservation of Nature, Rajiv Chauhan, who has done substantial work in the area, said: "Fisher Forest would be an ideal habitat for the Asiatic lion as there is a major similarity of temperature and humidity, vegetation and ruggedness of the region in comparison to the Gir protected area in Gujarat." The fauna of the district comprise of hyenas, wolves, Indian foxes, jackals, porcupines, monkeys, wild cats, hares and otters, he added.

Etawah district magistrate P Guru Prasad, said: "The much awaited lion safari is all set to come up shortly. Its layout plan has already been cleared by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and we hope the project would soon be completed."

He said the project had already received clearances from both the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) and the Supreme Court. The CZA has given conditional clearance to the safari and asked the state government to have a lion breeding centre first with at least 10 big cats and then set up the project. "The CZA authorities had asked the state government to first breed the lions and then shift them to the safari," a forest department source told TOI.

The idea of safari is that while the animals roam free in the habitat, men are supposed to visit it in cages (covered vehicles).

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