Saturday, December 1, 2007

State denies new home to lions.

Dhananjay Mahapatra | TNN

New Delhi: The Centre’s grand plan to relocate some of the Asiatic lions from their only home at the Gir forest in Gujarat to the forests of Madhya Pradesh has run into serious opposition from stategovernment. The plan, to save the lions from a disaster that could wipe them out in one go, involved relocating five of them from Gir to a 300 sq km forest at Kunopalpur in Sheopur district of Madhya Pradesh.

As many as 30 villages falling within the identified area were relocated in 2003, but the plan mooted by the Wildlife Institute of India and accepted by the Centre is still hanging fire.

A petition filed by Bio-diversity Conservation Trust of India through counsel Ritwick Datta alleged that the main reason for the stalling of the plan was due to the U-turn by the Modi government.

When amicus curiae Raj Panjwani brought this matter to the notice of a Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice R V Raveendran, it sought the views of both the state governments as well as the National Board for Wildlife within four weeks.

Appearing for the Gujarat government, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi said the state’s opposition to the plan is based on solid environmental grounds. He said even wildlife experts feel that lions could not be relocated to experimental surroundings already habited by tigers.

“The experts feel that tigers and lions can never co-exist in the wild,” he said, rejecting the argument of the petitioner that the state government had changed its stand due to Assembly elections.

Madhya Pradesh’s counsel Vibha Makhija said that she would ascertain the views of the state government and file a response even as the Bench said, “The plan appears to safeguard the Asiatic lions from perishing altogether as they live in groups within Gir forest.”

The study for the relocation of some of the Asiatic lions took into account the disaster at Seringeti forest in Africa where a disease, canine distemper, wiped out 80 per cent of the lion population.


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