The 376 Maldhari families currently living in the sanctuary area with their livestock will continue to stay there till the state government receives funds from the Centre to facilitate their relocation.
Recently, a grant of Rs50 crore was approved by Union ministry for environment and forest for Gujarat for the purpose of lion conservation.
This, however, is a fraction of the Rs236 crore sought by the state for several conservation projects.
Principal Chief Conservator of forests Pradip Khanna said plans to be funded by the grant had already been prepared.
The task of relocating the maldhari families will take more than the sanctioned amount, he added.
“We will take up other projects such as eco-development, gene pool project, etc,” Khanna said. “Relocation of Maldharis will not happen for now.”
The presence of Maldharis is believed to have detrimental effect on the lions, driving them out of the sanctuary area. The department estimates that the cost of rehabilitating one Maldhari family would come to at least Rs10 lakh.
“The crucial part is to get all of them to agree to be relocated,” said a former forest official from the region. “And if they agree and are given land outside the sanctuary, then it has to be ensured that they do not leave the land allotted to them and return to the forest, as has happened in the past.”
The recently released CAG report highlights similar irregularities in the relocation of Maldharis.
The report states that, between 1972 and 78, 588 families were shifted out of the Gir protected area.
Each family was given eight acres of cultivable and grazing land, 600 sq meters of residential plot and Rs 6050. A total of 257 families were not shifted.
But of the 588 families that were relocated, 87 returned to the forests and reside with authorization in the protected area.
According to the CAG report, the forest department had said that a scheme for the rehabilitation of Maldharis had been approved and would be implemented on availability of funds from the Centre.
But adequate steps to prevent relocated Maldhari families from returning to the protected area were not taken, the CAG report says.
“Consequently, the expenditure that was incurred on their earlier relocation towards farm lands, housing plots and cash, proved to be infructuous,” the report has commented.