450 Maldhari families living inside Gujarat's Gir sanctuary
The Times of India City
Junagadh: At a time when population of Asiatic lions is spreading outside of the Gir wildlife sanctuary into fringe areas leading to rise in man-animal conflict, hundreds of Maldharis (traditional inhabitants of Gir forest), who had moved out of the protected forest after taking benefit of government's resettlement scheme in 1980s have returned to the forest over the past two decades.
The state forest department has ordered a survey to find out how many Maldharis have now returned. According to data presented before CM Anandiben Patel at a high-level meeting on July 5, the forest department disclosed that there are over 450 families now living inside the sanctuary .Most of these Maldhari families who were resettled under the government scheme have returned to the Gir sanctuary.
The meeting was called to resolve issues concerning to people living and outside the Gir sanctuary. Patel has called the meeting after she visited Talala during by-polls campaigning. Local residents had complained about the difficulties they faced and also submitted a 16-point charter of demands to the CM. In a reply to demand of giving permission to Maldhari's to construct pucca houses inside Gir sanctuary, senior forest department officials revealed that about 450 Maldhari families, who had shifted out of Gir sanctuary after government provided them agricultural lands, pucca houses, loans and other facilities, were back inside the sanctuary.
According to an estimate, over 2,000 Maldharis have returned into Gir sanctuary over the last two decades. Many of them have sold their agriculture land and plots given by government, said forest department sources. "We have ordered a survey about the Maldharis who have returned to the sanctuary. Once the survey is carried out, we will come to know the exact number of Maldharis inside the sanctuary area," Dr J A Khan, principal chief conservator of forests, (wildlife), told TOI.
"The authorities have been asked to carry out survey about where Maldharis have settled after returning to sanctuary. Officers have also been asked to produce evidences with photographs," a forest official.
Senior forest officials said that the very purpose of relocation of Maldharis from Gir wildlife sanctuary becomes redundant with them coming back inside the sanctuary .
"The idea of relocations of Maldharis was conceived after the years of deliberations over conservation of lions in Gir sanctuary . The Maldharis and livestock had a negative impact on lion habitat due to consumptive use of both forest product and fodder," said the forest officer.
There are about 534 lions in Saurashtra of which 280 are found in Gir National Park and Sanctuary area and surrounding villages, while rest are found outside the Gir forests.
"The Maldharis who have returned back have settled either in existing ness or set up new settlements which are illegal. According an estimate, there over 4,100 Maldharis living in 46 ness (Maldhari settlements) in Gir Sanctuary .
Interestingly , forest department that had started issuing identity cards to Maldharis living inside Gir Sanctuary have issued over 5,500 cards," according to official documents of the forest department.