Eco-tourism policy for Gir gets high court nod
The Times of India City
Ahmedabad: The Gujarat high court on Wednesday approved the state government's draft of eco-tourism policy for the Gir sanctuary, the last abode of the Asiatic lions.
The policy draft was submitted by the state government to the HC in October last year; the approval has been granted with a proviso. The court has prohibited construction and development activities within 200 metres of any river or water body in the eco-sensitive zone around Gir. The court had directed the government to place the policy draft before it for scrutiny, during the hearing of a suo motu PIL filed in 2014 against the encroachment by hospitality units in and around the Gir sanctuary.
The HC, however, has made it clear that the implementation of the tourism policy will depend on the outcome of the order of the division bench, before which Saavaj Resort, a Gir hotel, has challenged the state government's power to formulate such a policy.
According to additional advocate general Prakash Jani, the HC decision will prove to be great relief for 396 villages and nearly 5 lakh residents who live in this zone around the sanctuary. People can now go ahead with small constructions for residential and commercial purposes. However, for commercial constructions of hospitality units, especially of big hotels, which were sealed last year because the construction was unauthorized, the policy clearance does not augur well. The sealed constructions will remain illegal and if the policy is implemented, they will be removed.
Following the uproar from villagers and five legislators of the area, the state government relaxed certain norms in October last year. The government permitted non-polluting commercial activities within the 10 km periphery of the declared eco-sensitive zone near the prohibited area. (This had been banned in the earlier draft policy). The relaxation paved the way for the establishment of educational institutes, hospitals, flour mills, provision stores, among others.
According to the relaxed norms, the 1 km zone is now open for 10% construction for residential facility on revenue land. Earlier, only 5% of land could be used for construction.