Saturday, May 24, 2014

Tiger state crouching to leap on Gujarat ka Sher

Tiger state crouching to leap on Gujarat ka Sher
The Times of India

For Narendra Modi, hailed by his admirers as 'Gujarat ka Sher', lion is more than an emblem for tourism iconography. He uses the royal animals, found nowhere else in India, as a providential bequest to lionize the people of the state.

Indeed, Gujarat is intensely proud of Asiatic lions of Gir, the sole abode of the beast on the planet. That pride gives ammo to the Gujarat government for its battle with BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, which is seeking the translocation of a set of lions from Gir under a centrally sponsored scheme.

MP, which wants to accommodate the lions in Kuno-Palpur, was buoyed by the Supreme Court's verdict on April 15, 2013, which cleared the translocation. Subsequently, Gujarat filed a review petition in the apex court; two more such petitions have been submitted to the court by NGOs based in Gujarat.

But the question is: will Modi, after he is sworn in as the PM, show some magnanimity to MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan? An expert group has recommended that 12 lions be initially translocated to MP and, over five years, 46 be moved. According to a 2010 census, Gujarat had 411 lions. The unofficial count today is around 500 as the lion conquers new territories.

Experts surmised that the growth in population would lead to lions straying outside the park boundary, enhancing the risk of conflicts with humans. And since Gir is the solitary home in the wild for the species, some experts felt that the lions faced the threat of extinction if catastrophe struck.

However, Gujarat has been arguing that the expanse over which the lions rule - 20,000 sq km - is so large that any catastrophe is unlikely to wipe out the whole species.

An imponderable in the equations drawn by scientists is the Modi-Chouhan relationship, which has been stiff in recent times. On the day the SC delivered its 2013 order, Chouhan welcomed the verdict. Almost a year later, in the thick of canvassing wars, Chouhan suggested that he was Modi's equal. Also, L K Advani's aborted bid to flee Gandhinagar and contest from Bhopal had Chouhan's backing.

At any rate, as the PM, Modi's choices in the translocation tussle will become more complex than they were when he was the CM. The PM is the ex officio chairman of the National Board of Wildlife (NBW), the main national authority concerned with the preservation of fauna. He will have two options: to let courts take the final call or to direct the NBW to review the project. Kuno-Palpur is sandwiched between Rathambore Tiger National Park in Rajasthan and Madav National Park in MP. Some experts believe that Kuno, which is in the corridor of movement for tigers, should be preserved as a tiger reserve. Besides, Kuno-Palpur is a problematic choice as the new home for lions because of its has a deadly gun culture spilling in from the Chambal Valley.

The lion, in the meantime, is drawing admirers to Gujarat from all over. The 'Khushboo Gujarat Ki' campaign featuring the Big B, launched in October 2010, brought a deluge of tourists to Gir. In 2010, 1.29 lakh tourists visited Gir. According to 2013-2014 data, 4.5 lakh visited Gir. Lions then became a cause celebre, spurring MP to aggressively follow up on the case in the apex court. Soon, UP too joined the lion-acquisition hunt. Just three days after taking over as the UP CM in March 2012, Akhilesh Yadav announced the revival of the dream of his father, Mulayam Singh, to set up a lion safari in his state. Since 'Gujarat ka Sher' is coming to power at the Centre, interesting times lie ahead for the lions of Gujarat and tigers of MP.

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