Forest staff, lions face hostilities of people staying near Gir
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Rajkot: Lion tracker Dharmendra Vala, who was allegedly killed early this month in Gir-East division for not allowing illegal lion show, is a glaring example of how the ground staff of forest department are facing hostilities of people living in the fringe areas of the protected Gir forest. Same is the case with the endangered lion which is at the receiving end of local villagers.
According to sources, there are over two dozen instances in the last three years, wherein forest officials have been assaulted or cases have been lodged against them when they went to protect forest and wildlife.
Moreover, the farmers' outfit has openly warned forest officials that they will not be responsible if lions die in their farms after being electrocuted or due to unnatural causes. "They tell us to cordon lions inside the sanctuary. Government has entertained many 'illegitimate' demands from people around Gir. Now, people, who are accused under Indian Forest Act and Wildlife Protection Act, lodge false counter complaints against forest staff," an officer alleged.
"As a result of assault and fabricated plaints against forest guards, foresters, range forest officers (RFO) and assistant conservator of forests (ACF), morale of the ground staff in Gir, considered as one of the best in the country, has gone down significantly," said a forest officer, against whom a complaint has been filed by local a villager.
"Neighbours of lions in Gir are turning hostile. They consider lions as a source of income through illegal lion shows. Those who try to prevent them have to face the music. Some villagers do not even hesitate to kill the lions," said a senior forest official, on condition of anonymity.
"A few months ago, a team went to rescue a lioness that was surrounded by villagers, after it killed two bullocks close to the Gir Sanctuary. The mob gathered at the spot pelted stone on forest staff. People in the mob were armed with axes and other sharp weapons and wanted to kill the lioness. We could hardly save the lioness and in the process six of our staff members were hurt by the mob," he said.
Foresters also gave examples of another type of hostility, where in Ghodhavadi settlement village, forest ground staff were transferred for no fault of theirs.
"A senior forest officer pulled up ground staff in presence of villagers in Ghodhavadi village. The support of a senior forest officer prompted villagers to dig 11 bore wells within hours inside the sanctuary area, which according to law is illegal," said a forest official, adding that those who break environment laws get state cover and those who protect it, get punished.
"Call it an irony of sorts, as no officer including from the IFS officer, wants to work in Gir. This is a serious matter and government needs resolve the issue, especially for the ground staff," added another forest official.