Express News Service
Rajkot, March 26: WITH 25 big cats reportedly found drowned in blind wells inside Gir Sanctuary on an average every year, politicians across party lines, the district administration and the Forest Department have set aside 'jurisdiction problems' and joined hands to form 'Sinh Bachao Samiti' (Mission Save Lions) to address the issue. Up till now the Forest and the Revenue Department had been passing the responsibility buck citing jurisdiction issues when it came to covering up wells located inside the sanctuary or along its periphery.
Initiated by senior BJP leader Narsinh Padhiyar, and supported by the Congress, the informal group will be assisted in its task by the district administration including the Collectorate and District Development Officer along with the Forest Department. The SBS will conduct surveys, procure funds and undertake the job of ensuring wells are well covered or parapets constructed around them.
In an inaugural meeting on March 24, a steering committee was formed and assigned the task of building parapets around blind wells located inside and along the periphery of Gir Sanctuary. The meeting was chaired by Padhiyar. The committee, to which six MLAs from Junagadh and Amreli and two MPs from Junagadh have extended support, will be approaching the State and Central governments to raise funds for the same. The committee members will also approach individuals and groups, both within the country and overseas, for donations.
According to a survey conducted by the Forest Department in 2004, there are as many as 1,000 wells within the sanctuary and around 8,000 along its periphery. The number is likely to have gone up in the last three years. Most wells, some of which are as deep as 100 feet, do not have parapets and there have been a number of instances in the past where lions or their cubs have fallen into the well and drowned. In February, two cubs drowned after they were chased into the well. Last week, two more cubs fell into a well located in the area adjacent to the sanctuary in Amreli district. With Gir being the lone abode of the Asiatic lion in the country, the incidences have been a major cause for worry.
The Forest Department had constructed parapets at 700 wells dug and used by maldharis settled inside sanctuary area. However, a number of other wells were left uncovered and parapets not constructed due to 'jurisdiction issues' between the forest and the revenue departments.
"The issue has been hanging fire since years even as wells have been claiming lives of more and more lions," said Padhiyar, adding, "We have spoken to six MLAs and two MPs, who represent three districts of Junagadh, Amreli and Bhavnagar, to provide us grants."
"Around Rs 10 crore is required to cover approximately 8,000 wells on the periphery of Gir (within a 6-km range)," said Junagadh District Collector Ashwini Kumar, adding, "As these wells belong to individuals, grants from MP and MLA funds meant for social welfare cannot be directly utilised. In this regard, the committee has decided to approach the State and the Central governments to provide 25 per cent of the grants for wildlife conservation."