Thursday, June 14, 2018






Hotels in the eco-sensitive zone of Gir forest that were sealed by the Gujarat High Court for want of adequate permits or for building additional rooms without permission have allegedly found a way to hoodwink the law. An RTI activist from Veraval has written to the HC that the hotels, in connivance with local authorities, have opened illegally to handle vacation rush of tourists.


President of RTI Activists' Association Rajak Baloch has in his letter to the high court written that several hotels inside the eco-sensitive zone of Gir forest have opened sealed rooms for guests during the vacation season, blatantly violating high court directions and in full connivance with the local administration.


The high court in a suo motu order in 2015 had directed not to carry out commercial or industrial activity within the eco-sensitive zone in Gir forest area. Baloch appealed to the court to seize CCTV footage from hotels, and constitute a special investigation team to force hotel owners to deposit income earned during the period in the government treasury.


The letter listed 11 hotels situated in eco-sensitive zones, some of which do not have permissions while others were operating without adequate permissions for additional rooms, that were sealed in a drive in 2015. It alleges that the hotels were giving backdoor entry to tourists in sealed areas. The list of 11 includes a few starred hotels and chains of hotel besides local guest and farm houses.


In-charge Deputy Conservator of Forests, Gir,W M L Meena said, "We have given our opinion to revenue department as and when they sought it. We do not have any direct role in this." Baloch also alleged that there is no proper register maintained either by hotels or departments to monitor number of people entering and exiting the eco-sensitive zone. Mirror tried to contact Gir-Somnath collector Ajay Prakash but calls and messages remained unanswered.

Bags that tamed plastic in big cat zone


Bags that tamed plastic in big cat zone

The Times Of India


AHMEDABAD: Their aim is to keep Sasan free of plastics. The last abode of the Asiatic lion draws tourists from all over the world and piles of dumped rubbish and plastic bags in the village have always remained an eyesore for the visitors. So, the members of Nari Shakti Gruh Udyog Mandal-Sasan Gir (NSGUM) took the vow to keep the area clean and completely stop use of plastic bags in the area.


"Not very long back, plastic bags could be found littered everywhere in Gir and Devaliya. We felt very bad as it gave very bad impression to the visitors, so when former deputy conservator of forest Ram Ratan Nala suggested that the villagers should come forward and do something to keep the area free of plastic, we decided to adopt a two-pronged approach," said Nazmaben Juma Katiya, the sarpanch of Sasan village.


The idea was to keep the forest free of plastic waste and at the same time generate income for the 90-odd households in the last abode of the Asiatic lion. The members of the Mandal started providing cloth bags as an alternative to plastic bags to all shopkeepers at Rs 10 per bag. "Now, it has been made mandatory for the shopkeepers not to use plastic bags and at the same time, when a tourist asks for a bag, give them our cloth bag at Rs 10 per bag. The step has almost completely removed plastic bags from our area and has generated jobs for us," added Nazmaben.


"When it was brought to our notice that some of the shopkeepers have not been adhering to the rule, we passed a resolution that those violating the no-plastic norm will have to pay Rs 500 as fine," she said.


Madhu Chudasama, who leads the NSGUM, said, "We are a group of 90 women who in their free time make these bags. Plastic was posing a big environmental hazard for every villager, even animals. We found that the cows in the village were eating plastic," she said. "Now, many tourists come specially to purchase these bags directly from the group," she added.


Former DCF Ram Ratan Nala said 40,000 cloth bags have been sold so far. "Women stitching bags get Rs 4 per bag. Of the Rs 10 which is paid for the cloth bag, Re 1 goes to the panchayat for undertaking development works. The group, with the help of forest department, is also in talks with big malls in the state and many of them have agreed to purchase these bags from the group," said Nala. He said that many garment industries are ready to give their waste cloth free of cost to the group for making the environment-friendly bags.


Latha Hingu of the NSGUM said, "The bags have become so popular that even traders from Talala are coming to purchase these bags. "During the tourist season, we witness an increase in sale. The panchayat has given the group a room and it is from where we operate. We also have our logo which is printed on the bag. The logo has an imprint of an lioness."

DCF who refused dam desilting shunted


DCF who refused dam desilting shunted

The Times Of India


AHMEDABAD: In a move that raised eyebrows, the state government late on Wednesday night transferred deputy conservator of forests, Sasan Gir Ram Ratan Nala. The officer had refused to permit desilting work at Singhoda dam, which is situated within the Gir sanctuary.


Nala had come under the scanner of the district administration twice earlier too. Nala had denied permission for a religious programme earlier this month at the Kankai Mata Temple — which is within the forest area — that was to be attended by chief minister Vijay Rupani. Recently, officials said, the forest department had also stopped construction work on the Sasan Talala road as there was no permission taken from the State Board of Wildlife for the road widening.


The Singhoda desilting issue led to a dispute between the forest department and the district administration. Officials said the forest department opposed the desilting, because the rules stipulate that permission from the National Board of Wildlife has to be sought. The administration, ostensibly to please the government, wanted to the desilting to go ahead.


The issue reached the Gujarat high court, which directed the state government and forest authorities concerned to report whether desilting of Singhoda dam would affect the forest and wildlife at the Gir National Park.


Forest minister Ganpat Vasava said, "This is a routine transfer and has nothing to do with the denial of permission for desilting of Singhoda dam."


Meanwhile, forest officials claimed that the issue was taken up before the additional chief secreatry, forest and environment, wherein it was alleged that Nala had refused to give permission for desilting work despite several requests from the district administration. Specualtion was also rife that Nala was opposing the work despite the permission being granted by the district collector office.


Ajay Prakash, the collector of Gir Somnath, clarified that he had not issued permission. "I do not have the right to give permission. All I can say is that the forest department had not issued permission for desilting as it would be sent to the collector as soon as it is issued."

Carcasses of lion, 10 nilgais found in 50 foot deep well


Carcasses of lion, 10 nilgais found in 50 foot deep well

The Times Of India


RAJKOT: Wildlife activists in Amreli were left shocked on Friday when an Asiatic lion and 10 nilgais (blue bulls) were found dead inside a 50-feet-deep well near Savarkundla town.


Preliminary investigation suggested that the animals and died in the nearby revenue areas and their bodies were dumped inside the farm well in Likhala village. Forest department team reached the village and the carcasses were sent for postmortem. The well was filled with water up to 30 feet.


Forest officials suspect that the lion must have been electrocuted in the fencing put up around five farms spread over 125 bighas. Farm owner Jaysukh Suhagia and his son Manu are also under the lens and action will be taken once the postmortem report arrives.


Forest department team along dog squad and forensic science laboratory (FSL) officials have launched an investigation into the incident. Official sources said the carcasses were dumped into the well to conceal their deaths.


Chief conservator of forest (CCF), wildlife circle, D T Vasavada told TOI, "It's unbelievable that 10 nilgais can fall into the well together. As per our primary investigation, the blue bulls died after drinking water mixed with urea. Somebody had mixed urea in the water tank kept in the farm for bullocks. The bodies were thrown in the well to hide the deaths."


"The exact cause of lion's death is still being probed. Once the veterinary doctors perform the postmortem, we can know the exact cause of the death," he said.


This is a revenue area of Gir (west) and farmers mostly put up fencing around their fields to protect their crops from nilgai and wild boards. However, electric fencing is not permitted and many a times lions have become victims of electrocution. At present, there is no standing crop, but the farmers are preparing for sowing as monsoon is round the corner.






Two farmers were arrested in connection with the electrocution of a lion and poisoning of 10 nilgais in Savarkundla. An Asiatic lion and 10 blue bulls were found dead inside a 50-feet-deep well near Savarkundla town on Friday. The well is located on the farm owned by Nanu Suhagiya, 75, and his son Arvind, 45, who were arrested by police. They have been remanded in police custody till June 6.


Reportedly, the nilgais died five days and the lion died four days before the carcasses were recovered.


Confirming the arrest, Range forest official K P Bhatiya said the Asiatic Lion is an endangered species under Schedule 1 of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Nilgais are listed under Section 3 of the Wildlife Protection Act.


According to sources, the farmers were trying to divert the attention of officials during investigation. The Forest department took help from police and used forensic experts as well as the dog squad to carry out the probe.


The duo has been arrested for violation of the Act for hunting and harming wildlife and granted bail till June 6 in the case. A panel post-mortem was performed on the animals on Friday to find out cause of death. Samples have been sent to FSL for further investigation as well. If found guilty, the duo is likely to face imprisonment from 3 to 7 years depending on the case and severity of the crime.




Arrest of farmers sparks uproar


Arrest of farmers sparks uproar

The Times Of India


RAJKOT: The arrest of a farmer and his son in connection with the deaths of an Asiatic lion and 10 nilgais (blue bulls), whose bodies were found from their farm well on May 31, has sparked an uproar among the agriculturists in Amreli district.


The forest department arrested Nanu Savaliya (75) and his son Jaisukh (45) of Likhala village and booked them under various sections of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 related to hunting. They were also booked under Section 201 of the Indian Penal Code for destroying the evidence. The duo was produced in the court and remanded to the department's custody till June 6. Though bodies of the lion and nilgais were found on May 31, it is suspected that the incident happened at least three days before.


Preliminary postmortem confirmed that the nilgais died due to consuming water contaminated with some chemicals, mostly urea, while the lion was electrocuted.


Likhala is located in the revenue area of Savarkundla forest range in Gir (east) division. Sources said the farmers had fenced the fields sprawling on 110 bigha land. The fencing was done under the the scheme wherein a group of farmers get government aid for the purpose so that they can protect their fields from nilgais, wildboars and other animals that ravage the standing crop.


Late on Sunday night, the Amreli Kisan Sangh organized a gram sabha that was attended by nearly 1,500 people where they adopted a resolution condemning their arrest. The villagers also gave statements that Savaliyas were innocent and that they should be released immediately.


President of Amreli taluka Bharatiya Kisan Sangh Bimal Kachhadiya said, "On Tuesday, around 1,000 villagers, including women from Likhala, will organize a public meeting in Savarkundla marketing yard. After that, we will hold a massive rally and submit a memorandum protesting the arrest of farmers to the deputy collector. The farmers have been wrongly framed in the case."

However, the forest department has not found any concrete evidence suggesting that the father-son duo dragged the animals and dumped them into the 50-foot-deep well. Sources said the land in this farm and nearby fields was tilled using tractors and new makeshift parapet walls were constructed on the periphery of the well in an apparent bid to destroy evidence. The grass and other vegetation beneath the fencing was also burnt.


On June 1, teams of various agencies, including state-run power distribution firm the Paschim Gujarat Vij Company Ltd (PGVCL), the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), Junagadh, dog squad and veterinary doctors from Jasadhar, were engaged in the investigation.

Red-faced forest officers wake up to illegal lion show menace


Red-faced forest officers wake up to illegal lion show menace

The Times Of India


RAJKOT: Facing huge embarrassment over videos of a lioness being harassed going viral, the senior forest officials were huddled in Junagadh and decided to crackdown on illegal lion shows.


All the top officers, including principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF), wildlife, G K Sinha, held a day-long deliberations on lion shows that are going on rampantly under their nose in and around Gir sanctuary, the last abode of Asiatic lions.


Sinha also addressed a press conference in Junagadh, where he announced a slew of measures to prevent such incidents again. "The section pertaining to lion hunting will be added whenever there is an incident of wildcats being harassed. We will also take the help of forensic experts to nab the culprits," Sinha said.


Importantly, 55 teams of forest department staffers will be formed in Gir and Greater Gir to keep an eye on illegal activities and unscrupulous elements outside the protected areas. Majority of lion shows and cases of harassment are reported from the revenue areas, where lions have strayed in large numbers.


"While 24 teams will monitor Junagadh district, 10 each will keep a close vigil in Bhavnagar and Gir-Somnath besides 11 teams in Amreli district," Sinha added.


"Lions are seen in these four districts. As per the data, there are 356 lions in protected areas and 167 outside.


Sinha also promised strict action against forest officials if their involvement in illegal lion shows or harassment is found.


Replying to a question on large number of vacant posts of senior officers in the most sensitive wildlife region, Sinha claimed these would be filled soon.


"Some unofficial people, including hotel agents, private drivers and other people lure the tourists for illegal lion shows. Most of these shows are organized in revenue areas. It has come to notice that these people use hens and live animals to lure the lions for illegal sighting," the department said in a statement.


The statement added, "There is a provision of three to seven years' imprisonment under the Wildlife Protection Act and a fine of Rs 10,000 to Rs 25,000 for those convicted of harassing lions by chasing them through bike or car and harassing them in any way."

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Gujarat: Asiatic lion found dead in Shetrunji river in Bhavnagar


Gujarat: Asiatic lion found dead in Shetrunji river in Bhavnagar

The Indian EXPRESS


Asiatic lions are an endangered species and enjoy highest legal protection by virtue of them having been included in Schedule-I of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.


A carcass of an Asiatic lion was found floating in Shetrunji river near Bhandariya village in Talaja taluka of Bhavnagar district on Wednesday, with forest officers saying the cause of death was a matter of investigation.


Forest officer of Bhavnagar forest division said they received information that a carcass of a lion was floating in Shetrunji river in Bhandariya village at around 10 am. "It was a male lion aged between 10 and 12 years. Its carcass was found floating in Shetrunji river upstream the Shetrunji dam. There were no apparent outer injury marks and cause of its death will be known after we receive post-mortem report from veterinarians," assistant conservator of forests of Bhavnagar, Vijay Rathod told The Indian Express.


Asiatic lions are an endangered species and enjoy highest legal protection by virtue of them having been included in Schedule-I of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The only sub-population of this big cats is surviving in Gir forest and other protected forest areas spread over Junagadh, Gir Somnath, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts of Saurashtra region of Gujarat. These are the only wild lions in the world outside Africa.


The range of Asiatic lions was once reduced to just Gir forest in Junagadh, Gir Somnath and Amreli districts only. But thanks to conservation efforts of Gujarat state forest department and support from local communities, the population of these big carnivores has recovered over the last 40 years.


With a growth in their population, lions started reclaiming their territory and have extended their range up to Bhavnagar district along the bank of Shetrunji river over the last decade.


A forest officer said that the place where the carcass of the lion was found is near Dungrani Rajasthali reserve forest in Talaja range forest in Talaja taluka of Bhavnagar district. "The area where the carcass has been found from is part of a habitat of Asiatic lions," the ACF further said.


Wild Asiatic lions live up to around 14 years. Forest officers said that a 10-year-old lion is considered an old lion. "However, the cause of the death of this lion is a matter of investigation," added Rathod.


The incident comes five days after carcasses of 10 blue bulls and an Asiatic lion were found floating in a well on an agricultural field in Likhala village of Savarkundla taluka of neighbouring Amreli district.


Forest officers in Amreli have prima facie concluded that the male lion, which was around four-years-old, had been dumped it to the well after it had been electrocuted while the blue bulls, locally called nilgai, had died after consuming water spiked with urea.


Blue bulls, spotted deers, Indian gazelles, sambars and wild boars — ungulates which are found in plenty in the lion landscape in the four districts — raid standing crops, especially at night. To keep these herbivores at bay, some farmers erect live wires around their field. However, sometimes lions also come in contact with such wires and get electrocuted. A lion was electrocuted after coming in contact with a live electric wire in Vaghnagar village of Mahuva taluka in Bhavnagar district in 2014.

Video clip shows Asiatic lioness being harassed by locals at Gir


Video clip shows Asiatic lioness being harassed by locals at Gir

The Times Of India


RAJKOT: Forest officials have found another scary evidence of rampant illegal lion shows and harassment of 'Gujarat's Pride' the Asiatic lion.


Video clips found from seven persons, who were arrested from a village of Gir-Somnath district for such illegal activity last month, show how locals harass the lions by throwing bait and relish the feline's desperate attempts to grab it.


A video that went viral on Wednesday shows two persons, one of them with a hen in his hand, teasing a lioness standing just a few feet away from him in a farm. These persons are partying in the farm while a village woman is cooking for them.


One of the persons continuously teases the lioness by pretending to throw the hen, even as it watches helplessly. At one point of time, his friend even asks him to make it roar. As the lioness comes close, the man proudly tells him that this is a daily routine and that it is not scared of them.


To demonstrate, he even shoos the big cat away for a couple of seconds. They even discuss how this was the third hen being fed to her that day. "Look how it is salivating on seeing the hen," one person remarks as they have a hearty laugh. The woman also warns not to tease the lioness any further, lest it attacks. Finally, the man throws the hen and the lioness grabs it and goes away into the field right behind them.


Chief conservator of forests, wildlife, D T Vasavada said, "This video and several others were recovered from the mobile phones of seven people arrested last month for illegal lion shows in Gir-Gadhada. The fact that the lion is not attacking the perpetrators despite being harassed and coming so close shows that such activity is routine for them. The lions might be used to getting food in this manner," said Vasavada.


Gir-Gadhda is located near Sasan in Junagadh district where a large number of resorts are situated. Several resorts offer such lion shows to their guests at a hefty charge.

On May 19, seven persons, including four from Ahmedabad, were caught red-handed watching an illegal lion show in Babaria range. Four tourists from Ahmedabad had stayed at a farmhouse near Sasan. They had planned an illegal lion show in Jakhiya village in the Gir-Somnath district.


In Video: On cam: Asiatic lions being harassed by locals at Gir

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Environment ministry panel allows mining near Gir Wildlife Sanctuary


Environment ministry panel allows mining near Gir Wildlife Sanctuary

Indian Express


NEW DELHI: A committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forests has given a go-ahead for limestone mining by a private company near Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, the only abode of the Asiatic Lion in the world.


The 417 hectares of land where mining has been allowed, is located 6.25 km from the sanctuary. The project has been allowed even though the Gujarat High Court has put a stay on final notification of eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of Gir Protected Area. 


The Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife, in its meeting on March 27, recommended the proposal for mining over a 417.35 hectare area at Sugala and Jagatiya villages falling outside the lion sanctuary "along with the conditions and the wildlife mitigation measures stipulated by the State Chief Wildlife Warden".


The Ministry issued guidelines to restrict damaged caused due to developmental activities around wildlife sanctuaries and national parks. In general, the ESZ width is up to 10 km but states have been asked to demarcate ESZ around all wildlife protected areas. The panel has asked the user agency to ensure construction material is not dumped and polluted water does not enter the sanctuary, to put up a plan to develop forest after completion of mining, and to have a wildlife conservation plan in place. 


The National Board for Wildlife, in the minutes of the meeting, a copy of which is with TNIE, mentioned that the High Court, while hearing a PIL in 2017, issued a stay order on final notification of eco-sensitive zone of Gir Protected Area. The PIL was about the Gujarat government submitting a proposal to the Centre for reducing the eco-sensitive zone from 3.33 lakh hectare area comprising 291 villages surrounding Gir to 1.14 lakh hectares consisting of 191 villages. The Sugala and Jagatiya villages were a part of the ESZ as per earlier demarcated area, but were removed in the new proposal by the state.



As per the 2017 Census, there are 650 Asiatic lions in Gir and nearly one-fourth of them live outside core habitat. There were several reports of threat posed to them by illegal mining. Environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta, who is also handling the case related to translocation of lions in the NGT, said the approval will pose a threat to their existence.


"It is very surprising that the standing committee recommended the proposal without even conducting a field visit or assessment of the impact of mining on 417 hectares of land, which is a significant area falling within 10 km of eco-sensitive zone," said the lawyer. "The conditions say the user agency shall not harm or destroy wildlife habitat, including fauna and flora. How will a mining project in an area like this not harm environment? The Ministry didn't even bother to conduct a site inspection."

State government departments lock horns over Talala-Sasan road


State government departments lock horns over Talala-Sasan road

The Times Of India


AHMEDABAD: The construction of a road between Talala and Sasan has led to a skirmish between forest officers and the contractor involved. The was contract awarded by the state government's roads and buildings department without the necessary permission from the forest department.


Most of the road skirts the Gir sanctuary boundary and a small part passes through the sanctuary. This tangle has exposed the lack of coordination between two department of the state government, which are now up in arms against each other.


The contractor was reportedly told by the roads and buildings department to build the road without approval from the state board for wildlife. The situation has now escalated to such a pitch forest department beat guards and workers of the contractors nearly came to blows a few days ago. This following a heated argument when the foresters told them to stop work as they did not have the requisite permission.


Officials said the contractor's men abused the officials. The contractor filmed the incident, and the video has gone viral on social media. Agitated forest department employees have reportedly threatened to go on mass casual leave.


The government cancelled the leave of chief conservator of forests, A P Singh, who was to proceed on a scheduled break for family commitments.


Singh said, "We have issued a notice to the contractor for violating guidelines and beginning work without the required permission. The road under construction was already existing and it is being widened on both sides. A proposal was sent to the CCF's office which was forwarded to the PCCF. However, permission to widen the road has not yet been approved by the state wildlife board."


Singh said any project near the sanctuary or the touching it has to be approved by the SBWL. Diversion of forest land for other purposes has to be approved by the national board for wildlife. In this case, the land where the widening is to take place was already with the state government. Hence, approval from the SBWL was needed.


A senior forest officer said, "In this case the roads and buildings department awarded the contract without getting approval from the SBWL. The officer said the department should not have awarded the tender in the first place. If they really wanted to issue the tender, work should not have been started.


N K Patel, who is in-charge of the state highway project at the roads and buildings department, said, "We awarded the contract as this was an existing road. We have applied for permission but will have to check if we have received it." Patel said he was unaware of the incident in question but would seek a report on it.

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