Sunday, April 13, 2008

Tussle over Gir Lions Reach Supreme Court

The two BJP-ruled neighbouring states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh appear to be on a warpath once again on the controversial proposal of shifting the world-famous Asiatic lions from the Gir forests to Madhya Pradesh.

The contentious issue has now reached the Supreme Court through a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking the apex court's intervention in the matter. A Delhi-based NGO – Bio-diversity Conservation Trust – has filed a PIL in the apex court urging it to direct the Gujarat Government to cooperate with Madhya Pradesh to implement the Centre-aided project for transferring the big cats to the Kuno-Palpur sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.

Sources in the Gujarat Forest Department said the Supreme Court held a hearing on the PIL last Wednesday and asked the Union Environment and Forest Ministry to send its comments on the issue.

Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), Gujarat, Pradeep Khanna was also rushed to Delhi on Wednesday to brief senior lawyer Mukul Rohtagi, who is fighting the case on the state's behalf. A further hearing on the PIL is likely to take place after the court vacation.

"Our lawyer has already argued against the PIL seeking the translocation of the Asiatic lions from Gir to Kuno-Palpur. On my return to Gandhinagar, I have apprised the CMO and also our Forest Minister Mangubhai Patel of the developments," Khanna told The Indian Express on Friday.

Forest Minister Patel said, "It's unfortunate that the issue is being raked up again. I stick to my earlier stand that it is not possible to transfer the lions to the Kuno-Palpur Sanctuary. I'll request the CM to take up this issue with his MP counterpart and persuade him not to press for the relocation of the big cats."

"It seems the MP lobby in Delhi has become active again, pressuring all concerned to ensure that the long-pending proposal for shifting the lions to Kuno-Palpur is accepted by the Centre. But Gujarat will continue to resist this move," said a senior official in the CMO.

Arguing against the controversial proposal, the official said that it was not practical to shift lions to the sanctuary, as the presence of tigers there could trigger frequent clashes between the two large feline species. "In the wildlife history, it is generally observed that tigers and lions can never co-exist in the same territory," he said.

Gujarat officials said the Madhya Pradesh government had mooted the proposal over a decade ago without taking them, and also the local villagers in and around Gir, into confidence. Besides, a large number of poachers found in MP may pose a great threat to Gir lions if they are shifted there, they said.

"Gangs of poachers from the neighbouring state frequently come to Gir. Some of them have also been arrested for involvement in poaching cases. In this scenario, is it advisable to shift Gir Lions to Madhya Pradesh?" said an official.

Wildlife experts in Gujarat are also against the proposal to relocate the lions to the Kuno-Palpur sanctuary – the proposed "second home" being created there for the felines under the Rs 25-crore project.

"The Kuno-Palpur sanctuary has a very inadequate prey-base, with only about 4,000 chitals, sambhars and other herbivores, while there are over 40,000 chitals and 12,000 other herbivores species like sambhar and nilgai here. Considering this contrast, it is not advisable to accept MPs proposal," said G A Patel, a former member of the National Board for Wildlife.

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