'Buffer zone cut will destroy lion habitat'
The Times Of India
Ahmedabad: While 23 lions have died in the last few weeks in Gir sanctuary, a wildlife activist reiterated before the Gujarat high court that the state government's plan to reduce the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) around the Gir wildlife sanctuary and national park will "destroy the lion habitat".
The high court, however, stayed the state government from issuing a notification which could reduce the buffer zone around the Gir sanctuary from 3.32 lakh hectares to 1.14 lakh hectares. The HC stayed the reduction of the ESZ around Gir after wildlife activist Biren Padhya filed a PIL in April last year.
In response to the state government's reply in the HC, Padhya stated that the buffer zone was going to be cut from the earlier minimum of 8km and maximum of 17km from the edge of the sanctuary to between 500m and 4 km. There were 291 villages in the buffer zone proposed earlier, but the new area covers only 119 villages, where industrial and commercial activities would be restrained or regulated.
The petitioner said that while the state government is promising to protect lions, there is no move on its part to change its proposed notification, which if implemented, "will be catastrophic for wildlife in Gir".
Padhya alleged that "due to pressure from unknown quarters, more particularly the mining and tourism lobby, the state government reduced the ESZ leaving out immediate border villages, which will leave them prone to mining and other hazardous activities, which will prove detrimental to wildlife".
The petitioner alleged that the state government falsely claimed that it had to change the ESZ due to objections from local residents and that it had taken into consideration the opinions of NGOs and wildlife activists. In fact, a central government committee had in 2016 recommended that the buffer zones around sanctuaries and national parks should be uniform across the country. The HC is to hear the issue further on October 17.