Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Fight over lion fans stir in Gir Somnath

Fight over lion fans stir in Gir Somnath
The Indian Express

Even as the state government is waging a legal battle in the Supreme Court against the proposed translocation of Asiatic lions from their last abode in Gir forest in Junagadh district, a new turf war has erupted over the issue in Junagadh itself. Residents of Sasan Gir, the village famous for lion safaris and headquarters of forest area, have threatened not to allow tourists enter the area if the village is not retained in its original taluka of Talala.

Gir sanctuary is due to reopen to tourists in the second week of October.

BJP leaders in Junagadh are demanding that Sasan Gir, the village on the western border of Gir forest and once part of Talala taluka, be retained in Junagadh to keep the cultural identity of the district intact. However, residents of Sasan Gir and two other villages, Bhalchhel and Haripur, are opposed to the move, claiming they would be at a disadvantage and hence, want to be with Gir Somnath district.

Chief Minister Narendra Modi had announced the creation of Gir Somnath district a year ago by halving Junagadh to bring administration closer to residents of coastal talukas of Una, Veraval, Kodinar, Sutrapada and Talala. Trouble began when the state government issued a formal notification on August 13 about Gir Somnath, declaring entire Talala taluka as its part. The move did not go down well with local politicians in Junagadh. They feared Junagadh would lose its identity as Gir forest with lions, famous Kesar mango of Talala, Somnath temple near Veraval and cement factories in Kodinar and Sutrapada, besides a long coastline would now be part of the new district.

Sasan Gir hosts the office of deputy conservator of forest, wildlife division, Junagadh circle. Tourists have to take permission of the DCF for safaris in Gir Wildlife Sanctuary to watch lions in the wild. Similarly, Gir Interpretation Zone, a safari park in Devaliya, is located on the border of Haripur and Hiranvel villages in Talala taluka.

BJP MLA from Junagadh Mahendra Mashru and local party leaders made representation to ministers Anandi Patel, Saurabh Patel and Nitin Patel after the August notification. "We explained to the government that when Porbandar was carved out of Junagadh in 1997, we lost the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi. With the creation of Gir Somnath, we lost Gir forest to the new district. Mount Girnar and Gir forest are cultural and geographical identity of Junagadh," Mashru said.

Apparently accepting their representation, the state government issued another notification on September 9, axing the three villages from Talala taluka and merging them with Mendarda taluka of Junagadh. But residents of these three villages started protesting their annexation to Mendarda and submitted a memorandum to Talala mamlatdar. Their contention was that Mendarda town was more than 30 km away from their villages while Talala only 12 km. They started a indefinite hunger strike at Sasan Gir from Thursday.

"We have no problem being part of Junagadh or Gir Somnath. Our demand is to keep Talala taluka intact and Talala town our taluka headquarters. We don't mind if the entire taluka is retained in Junagadh," said Devayat Vadher, Congress member of Talala taluka panchayat.

Mendarda, Visavadar and Junagadh, all talukas of Junagadh district, form parts of Gir forest. Girnar Wildlife Sanctuary in Junagadh town is home to 24 lions as per the 2010 census. "Junagadh has more lions than Gir Somnath. Residents of these three villages are subjected to harassment due to whimsical decision of a few people in Junagadh," said Vadher, who is spearheading the agitation. To intensify their agitation, the protesters have given a call for bandh in Talala taluka on Tuesday.

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