Gujarat government allows 50 devotees to stay overnight at Gir temple
THE TIMES OF INDIA
AHMEDABAD: Through a notification, the state government has allowed 50 devotees to stay overnight at the Kankai Mataji templewithin the Gir sanctuary , the only abode in the world of the Asiatic Lion. The decision has raised the hackles of wildlife activists and even the members of the State Board for Wildlife, who say that the move will be detrimental to conservation of lions.
In 1998-99, a similar attempt was made to permit tourists to stay overnight at the temple. However, the permission was cancelled following the intervention of the standing committee on science and technology , environment and forests of the Rajya Sabha. Principal chief conservator of forests G K Sinha said: "The government had on Tuesday issued a notification making corrections in the earlier government resolution. The earlier GR had stated that the trustees of the temple and devotees should be permitted to stay within the sanctuary." Sinha said that the government on Tuesday defined `devotees'. "Accor ding to Tuesday's GR, devotees would be those whose family deity is Kankai Mata or those who want to perform a pooja -they can stay over," Sinha said. "Ho wever, the number of such devotees should not exceed 50."
A senior officer of the forest department said that till now, apart from the trustees, no one -not even their family members -had been allowed to stay . In the absence of clarity about who constitutes `devotees', the deputy conservator of forests denied permissions. The officer said now that the government has allowed 50 devotees to stay , officials would be forced to issue permissions. He said that in the new circumstances, anyone can get a letter from trustees under the pretext of performing a pooja and stay overnight at the temple. He said that poachers or unwanted elements could also possibly infiltrate into the sanctuary . He sa id that since there was no regular pooja in the night, there was no need for people to stay over.
Contradicting forest officials, fo rest minister Gan pat Vasava said: "Over 300 devote es used to stay overnight. The government, in order to conserve the lions, has reduced the number." Bhushan Pandya, a member of the State Board for Wildlife, said: "The real pilgrim is ignored and tourism takes the front seat. In 1998, in similar circumstances, the government had to withdraw." The decision of the government to allow the night stay will be bad for conservation as any person can stay as a tourist in the forest area, Pandya said.
Priyvrat Gadhvi, another member of the board, said: "This will have a directly detrimental effect on the surrounding forest and will set a bad precedent."
Gadhvi said limiting people to a particular number would be practically impossible. "The overall cascading impact on conservation of lions would be adverse," he said. "I will definitely raise the issue in the next board meeting." Wildlife activists have begun an online campaign to force the government to reverse its decision.
Devotees can use either gate now
The forest department, which had so far made it mandatory for devotees visiting the Kankai temple to exit from the same gate, has relaxed this norm and they can now leave from either gate. Ganpat Vasava, the forest minister, said the department has stated that there are two gates in use, one is 17km from the temple and the other is 13km away. The department clarified that devotees will have to leave from either gate. Experts feel that with the option to use either gate, devotees will in effect travel through the entire sanctuary area.