Madhya Pradesh at fault over delay in shifting of Gir lions
THE TIMES OF INDIA
BHOPAL: It is none other than delay in notification of Kuno wildlife sanctuary as a national park that has hampered the project of shifting Gir lions to Madhya Pradesh.
At the sixth meeting of the expert committee on translocation of Asiatic lions, the MP government was asked to notify the area by February 2017, but to no avail. This was the last condition imposed by a Supreme Court-appointed committee.
In January this year, Gujarat's forest department had placed its objections before this 12-member committee and demanded that 36 studies be completed before the endangered Gir lions can be transferred to MP. "Converting this wildlife sanctuary into a national park was the last condition MP was asked to comply with.
But they didn't. Both MP and Gujarat governments are delaying procedural formalities," alleged RTI activist Ajay Dubey, who has filed a contempt petition against both governments for "undue delay in compliance of Supreme Court's order in shifting of lions".
Issues like prey base, habitat, vegetation and weather are said to be conductive for shifting of lions to Kuno. The MP forest department had promised to complete all formal processes of declaring Kuno as a 'national park' by the end of February, but failed to do so following varied administrative problems, aid sources. The expert committee had visited Kuno last December.
After spending nearly five hours at the sanctuary, the panel members had found the atmosphere in Kuno-Palpur suitable for shifting of lions. Gujarat, too, could not question much on MP's preparedness to host the lions, sources said.
Gujarat government had moved a curative petition in Supreme Court as its last legal resort to retain its Asiatic lions. It was dismissed.
When shortage of prey base was cited as one of the major objections, the state declared 700 sq km as a protected area to resolve the issue. Sources said the prey base, which was presented before the court in 2013, was nearly 350 sq. km, which is the core sanctuary area.
While MP won the eight-year-long legal battle with Gujarat in 2013, the latter had been dilly-dallying compliance.
Madhya Pradesh had been trying to mollify Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, after the loss Gujarat might feel following the Supreme Court directive for relocation of Asiatic Lions from Gujarat's Gir sanctuary to Kuno-Palpur sanctuary.
MP government circles had gone to the extent of suggesting that they were not averse to retaining the tag of 'Gir' or 'Gujarat' to identify the relocated lions at their new home in Kuno-Palpur.
The move for relocation of big cats, first mooted in 2000, had been hanging fire ever since because Gujarat had steadfastly refused to part with the majestic lions since that state held the unique distinction of being home to the natural habitat of the only surviving Asiatic lions.
While conservationists insisted that diversifying the lions' habitat would ward off any natural, medical or man-made calamity that could wipe out the entire population of Gir's lions, Gujarat treated the issue as a matter of pride and wanted to retain its unique status to continue to attract the substantial tourist inflow to Gir.
After the Supreme Court finally resolved the issue in favour of relocation, Gujarat is left with little choice but to comply.