NBWL ignores HC order, approves mining in Gir eco-sensitive zone
The Times Of India
AHMEDABAD: The National Board of Wildlife (NBWL), at its 48th meeting held on March 27, had allowed mining on 417.35 hectares of the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of Gir sanctuary — the last abode of the Asiatic Lion — despite the Gujarat high court staying issuance of the final notification by the Centre, delineating the area around the sanctuary to be treated as an eco-sensitive zone. The court directed so in April 2017, after a public interest litigation (PIL) challenged the state government's proposal to reduce the area of the ESZ from 3.33 lakh hectares — as notified by the Ministry of Environment Forest in October 25, 2016 — to 1.14 lakh hectares.
The minutes of the NBWL meeting, released on April 18, state, "The standing committee on the proposal was briefed and stated that the project involves the mining of limestone over an area 417.35 hectares — 414.85 hectares of private revenue land and 2.51 hectares of government wasteland — at Sugala and Jagatiya villages and are situated at 6.25km from the boundary of Gir Wildlife Sanctuary." It further says, "After discussions, the standing committee decided to recommend the proposal along with the conditions and the wildlife mitigation measures stipulated by the state chief wildlife warden (CWLW). The annual compliance certificate on the stipulated conditions should be submitted by the user agency to the state CWLW."
The ministry of environment forest, climate change, had included 3.33 lakh hectares of area surrounding the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park comprising 291 villages as eco-sensitive zone. However, the state government in a new proposal sent to the ministry proposed to reduced the area to 1.14 lakh hectares consisting of 191 villages. The division bench of Chief Justice R Subhash Reddy and V M Pancholi, while hearing the PIL challenging the state governments decision, ordered a stay on issuance of final notification and issued notices to the central and state governments.
A senior forest department official said that the boundaries of the proposed ESZ, which was challenged in the HC, is as close to 500 metres from the sanctuary. "The maximum distance is of four km," he added. Gir sanctuary is home to 523 lions, according to the latest census, out of which 168 lions live outside the protected area. More than 300 lions have died in the past five years, of which 25 deaths were unnatural.
According to the official, "The two villages marked for mining activity — Sugala and Jagatiya in Kodinar taluka of Junagadh — were in the list of ESZ villages in the draft notification. However in the revised proposal of the state government, the villages were not included."
The official said that the permission for mining activity in an area as close as 6km from the sanctuary will be disastrous for the lions as the lions also move outside the sanctuary. He said the CWLW had earlier stated that clearance to any project in the area would be given only after high court order. "Surprisingly, the authorities decided not to wait for the court directive and gave permission to mining activity in the zone under consideration," he said. Principal chief conservator of forest, G K Sinha, was not available for his comments.