Saturday, February 25, 2012

200-year-old procession of naga sadhus called off.

TNN Feb 21, 2012, 05.20AM IST
Six Persons Died And 30 Hurt In Junagadh Stampede
AHMEDABAD: For the first time in over two centuries, the procession of naga bawas (naked sadhus) that marks the celebration of Shivratri in Mount Girnar was called off on Monday after six persons died in a stampede on the outskirts of Junagadh late on Sunday night.
Pankaj Trivedi, Junagadh superintendent of police, said akhadas in the area have voluntarily decided to call off the procession, which is taken out just before the midnight bath in Damodar Kund. He said that the bath which is inside the temple will take place but it would be a private affair.
The procession ends with a bath in the kund and offering of prayers, marking the end of the five-day Shivratri fair.
The cancellation of the procession has resulted in large number of people leaving Junagadh. The administration has also banned entry of private vehicles and buses in Bhavnath area.
At least 30 persons were injured in the stampede. Of these, only nine were in hospital and the remaining were discharged on Monday.
The stampede that occurred at Pang Nala, an S-shaped drain with a fall of about 75 metres to 100 metres on both sides, was a result of the technical snag in the state transport buses that came face to face. On Sunday at about 6 pm, two state transport buses - one heading for Bhavnath and another towards Junagadh city - came face to face and stopped. Sources said the boundary wall of the bridge on one side gave in because of the chaos, hurtling many people down, resulting in deaths and injuries to the devotees.
Maha Mandleshwar Vishwambhar Bharti of Shree Pant Dasnan Juna Akhada said, "The fund of Rs five crore have already been sanctioned for the widening of the nullah and even having it straightened instead of the curve. But, the project is hanging fire due to internal politics in the district administration."
Meanwhile, the state government has ordered a high-level inquiry headed by additional chief secretary Varun Maria into the incident. The state government and the Junagadh Municipal Corporation have also announced an ex-gratia amount of Rs 1 lakh each to the family of the deceased and Rs 25,000 to the injured.
"Barring 108 services and government vehicles, no four-wheelers are allowed near Damodar Kund and Bhavnath," said Trivedi.
The popular fair, which concludes on Shivratri midnight, is an annual affair attended by at least 10 lakh people.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Junagadh stampede toll rises to 7, probe ordered.

Published: Monday, Feb 20, 2012, 12:38 IST | Updated: Monday, Feb 20, 2012, 17:09 IST
Place: Rajkot (Gujarat) | Agency: PTI 
Toll in the stampede at Mahashivratri fair at Bhavnath temple in Junagadh district on Monday rose to seven even as senior police officials said breakdown of two state transport buses led to the incident.
Premji Makwana, who was injured in the melee last evening at the famous Shiva temple at the foothills of Girnar, 150km from here, succumbed to his injuries at Junagadh Civil Hospital, official sources said.
The mishap occurred on the narrow Panjanka bridge that connects Junagadh city to Bhavnath temple when two state transport buses coming from opposite directions broke down while crossing the bridge.
"This blocked the entire traffic as well as movement of people which created panic among them causing the stampede," Junagadh SP Dipankar Trivedi said.
The state government has constituted a high-level committee, headed by Additional Chief Secretary Varun Maria, to probe the incident.
Nearly nine lakh pilgrims had converged at Bhavnath temple last evening at the time of the tragedy, district officials said.
In the wake of the stampede and in a bid to prevent recurrence of such incidents, the district administration has put in place many measures.
"To avoid any such incident, we have banned all vehicular traffic in the area today and people are allowed to go on foot only," Trivedi said, adding the directions would be in place till the fair is over.
Meanwhile, Junagadh resident Suresh Banjaria, who had gone to Bhavnath temple yesterday, said, "People of the city have been telling the municipal corporation to build a wider bridge in place of Panjanaka bridge but it has not been done.
Those who died last night were identified as Kalpesh Vadher, 8, Chotu Jadeja, 36, Chanda Rawal, 55, Sheetal Charule, 18, and Manjuben Bhimabhai, 60, while the body of a two-year-old boy is yet to be identified.
The state government and Junagadh Municipal Corporation each have announced a compensation of Rs1 lakh to the kin of the deceased and Rs25,000 to the injured.
Meanwhile, three companies of the State Reserve Police (SRP) have been summoned from Gondal to ensure that the fair passes off peacefully.
In the wake of the stampede, Akhil Bhartiya Sadhu Samaj, the main organiser of the fair, has decided to call off their famous procession saying only a symbolic procession would be taken out.
The fair is organised every year to mark Mahashivratri and this time nearly 10 lakh people are expected to attend the congregation.

Veteran foresters blame trust deficit for discord.

Express News Service : Ahmedabad, Thu Feb 23 2012, 02:26 hrs
When Gujarat’s veteran foresters recollect the long-standing disagreement over the Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project (to Madhya Pradesh), they say they were neither consulted nor shown the chosen sites in MP, and that foresters from that state never studied the conservation techniques employed here.
This led to a trust deficit among Gujarat’s officers, who declined to hand over the endangered carnivores they had always been charged with protecting. By the time the present heads of the department took over, hardly one meeting had taken place, called by director general of forests, government of India, forest officials of MP and Gujarat, and others, when a petition landed the issue in the Supreme Court.
The debate is back in focus after the apex court on Tuesday observed the lions belong to the country and not to Gujarat, though they are found only here.
“Yes, there are many lions and they should be relocated but not in the way presently proposed. This is not the way,” said Sanat Chavan, a former principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) who spent a considerable part of his career in the Gir area — Asiatic lion’s last abode.
Not consulting Gujarat’s foresters meant the plans never factored in the role Gir’s maldharis had played in conserving the predators, and never studied if a similar environment existed in the neighboring state, he said.
Lions are ‘human-friendly’ and tend to move in groups even through human habitation, but under normal circumstances, do not attack unless provoked.
“The maldharis of Gir know this and so they do not provoke the big cats, meaning there are fewer man-animal conflicts,” said G A Patel, also a former PCCF who was chief wildlife warden when the plans were being formulated by a committee.
Patel said he was invited to attend the committee’s meetings only after alternative sites had been decided on. He raised objections then and afterward as well, questioning whether there was enough prey base in a place where tigers already exist, or if the locals would welcome the carnivores, or if the temperature would be suitable at the alternative site which, even by then, he had not even been shown.
“Was the alternate site good enough? I had not even seen the site. How could I allow lions to be relocated there without even seeing the site?” he said.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

GIPL develops smartphone-based surveillance tool.

PTI Feb 20, 2012, 12.49PM IST
AHMEDABAD: State-run Gujarat Info Petro Limited (GIPL) has developed an unique software based system for smartphone enabled surveillance and tracking, finding diverse applications in sectors like forest and agriculture.
This system will be of great help in conservation of endangered spices of Asiatic lions (in Gir) and other flora- fauna found in forests of Gujarat.
"We have developed an unique MIS system on GIS base for surveillance and tracking. It can be run on a Windows operated mobile phone to identify exact location of the trouble prone areas in dense forests," GIPL CEO Vijay Sharma said.
"The system which updates the server over the air (OTR), eradicates the need for physical filing of data on a computer, and can also conduct digital surveys of the agricultural fields," he said.
Management Information System (MIS), till now has been confined to laptop and desktop usage. It is widely used by the industry as a ERP solution, for effectively managing the organisations.
Superimposing, MIS data on Geographic Information System (GIS), for quick referencing had been a challenge so far for the ICT sector.
"A forest beat guard armed with such a software driven mobile phone can help check acts of poaching, fire, tree cutting, encroachments on forest land, by clicking a picture of the site and sending it through SMS to the server," he said.
"The moment a picture (with the location, longitude and latitude) lands on the server an alert is generated to the concerned person and rescue teams can be rushed to the exact spot in very short time," Sharma said, explaining how the system operates.
"Using the GPS feature the location of forest beat guard can also be tracked, through PDA (smart phone) based mobile surveillance system, so that the forest department can keep an eye on whether they are performing their duties or not," Sharma said.
GIPL, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the state run Gujarat State Petroleum Corportation (GSPC). The company has developed the technology for Gujarat Forest Department.
The company is in the process of developing a system based on similar technology for the Gujarat Seed Certificate Corporation that would help in conducting surveys of the agricultural fields.
"We are developing a system for the state Seed Certificate Corporation that would help in surveying the field area and also help estimate its potential yield," Sharma said.

Gir lions country’s property, says SC.

Krishnadas Rajagopal : New Delhi, Wed Feb 22 2012, 01:02 hrs
The Gujarat government’s argument that there is no need to move the Asiatic lions from the state’s Gir territory prompted the Supreme Court to observe on Tuesday that the big cats are not the “property” of the state, but belong to the country.
“No state can claim the right over an animal merely because the animal is housed in a particular state. It does not become the property of that state, it belongs to the country,” a Forest Bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and C K Prasad shot back at the state government.
Gujarat is making a spirited case of its distinction as the only state in the country to have Asiatic lions, and is objecting to a plan to re-locate some of the Asiatic lion population to Madhya Pradesh.
The opposition from the state comes despite the National Board for Wildlife also voting against the Gujarat government’s reluctance to shift the lions.
Justice Radhakrishnan told senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for the Gujarat government, that the most important question before the court is to preserve a “critically endangered species” and not witness a litigation fought tooth-and-nail about whose lions they are.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bhavnath Mahashivaratri fair kicks off at Girnar hills, Junagadh.

Ahmedabad/Junagadh, 16 February 2012
2012 edition of Gujarat’s world-famous Bhavnath fair kicked off today.
About one million people from all over Gujarat and other states will visit this fair in the course of next five days.
Shaivait sadhus from all over the India participate in this fair.
Main attraction of this fair is stalls of naked Hindu saints(naga babas), and their midnight march/bath on Mahashivratri.
Bhavnath fair is mini version of Kumbh mela. In Kumbh mela sadhus take bath in a river in day light and all akhadas participate in it. In Bhavnath fair sadhus take bath in Mrugi tank in the midnight and only three akhadas(groups of sadhus) participate. Kumbh mela comes once in four years, Bhavnath Mela comes every year. Bhavnath fair is a must visit that can be cherished for life time.

Parking facility at zoo is inadequate.

Lawrence Milton, TNN Jan 31, 2012, 05.46AM IST
 MYSORE: Mysore Zoo, which is receiving the highest number of visitors in the country, has inadequate parking area, thus inconveniencing its visitors, especially during peak season, due to lack of enough space. Yet authorities concerned are dilly-dallying on the issue. Every year, the number of visitors is increasing, with heavy influx of visitors last year fetching good revenue to the facility. But, when it comes to providing parking space to all its visitors the zoo is silent.A park opposite the zoo which is being used for parking is catering to only 50% of its visitors. The problem is evident during weekends, public holidays and peak seasons like Dasara, New Year's Day and also during extended holidays. An alternative parking arrangement has been made at Dasara exhibition grounds, but it is quite a distance, about 300 metres, from the spot. Parking space has been a major concern, but authorities concerned are lethargic about the issue. The park is MCC's property and they have agreed to lease the area to the zoo for a period so that it is utilized for parking vehicles.Zoo executive director B P Ravi told TOI that there is a proposal for a multi-level parking facility at the park area under JNNURM project, but it is still in the initial stages.
The civic body has to take a final call on this score. According to plan, five storey (G+4) parking facility will be created to provide parking space to 300 cars, 40 buses and hundreds of two-wheelers.Meanwhile, Zoo Authority of Karnataka member-secretary M N Jayakumar said, quoting a report, that the zoo is receiving more than 2.5 million visitors every year, the highest by any zoo in the country. Last financial year, the figure stood at 2.6 million, whereas, the number at Patna zoo, Sakkarbaug zoo (Gujarat) and Hyderabad zoo was 1.5-2 million. This season, Mysore Zoo is expecting 3 million visitors, said Jayakumar, who will retire from service on Tuesday.The member secretary, however, claimed that Mysore Zoo has reached a saturation point with regard to creation of new facilities and there is no way to build parking facility at its premises.
As per Central Zoo Authority rules, more than 30% of the any zoo area cannot be used for construction, but Mysore Zoo has crossed the limit. And there is no scope for increasing parking area, Jayakumar claimed. This means that visitors coming to the country's best crowd-pulling zoo, will have to continue to spend time looking for a parking space until the new facility is created.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Leopard cub rescued from well in Junagadh district

PTI | 07:02 PM,Feb 13,2012

Vadodara, Feb 13 (PTI) A six-month-old leopard cub which had fallen into an 80 feet deep well at Vasoj Village in Una Taluka of Junagadh district was rescued by the forest department today. The cub had fallen into a well in the field of Bhanabhai Ramu. Forest department officials brought it out after a two hours' efforts. It has been now sent to Jasdhar for a check-up, said Forest Officer B T Ahir.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Leopard rescued from well in Junagadh village.

Press Trust of India : Vadodara, Fri Feb 10 2012, 04:47 hrs
A young leopard, which had fallen into a well in Alidhara village of Junagadh district, has been rescued, forest officials said on Thursday.
Anshuman Sharma, Assistant Conservator of Forests, said the animal was rescued by Gujarat Forest staff within half an hour of the incident, which occurred on Wednesday in a farm owned by Raghubhai Zala.
Hearing the cries of the leopard, people gathered near the well and forest officials in Jamwala range were immediately contacted.
Subsequently, the animal was rescued using ropes.
The wild cat was later sent to Sasan for a medical check up from where it was released into the forests, Sharma said.

Green cover falls in state.

TNN Feb 9, 2012, 05.19AM IST
Ahmedabad/SURAT: The green cover in the state has declined by 554 sq km. This was revealed on Wednesday in the report of the Forest Survey of India.
The forest cover (sanctuaries and protected area) recorded a nominal decline of just one sq km while the trees outside the forest area recorded a decrease of 553 sq km. Additional principal chief conservator of forest, social forestry, H S Singh, said, "The data released in the report 2011 is for the year 2008-09.
The fall in the forest cover and that of the tree cover was because of the cutting of gando baval (prosopis juliflora) in several parts of the state. This along with the cutting of trees in private land was the main reason for the decrease."
The report released on Wednesday reveals that Gujarat has a green cover of 22,456 sq km against 23,010 sq km in 2009. The report said the forest cover in the state was 14,619 sq km which was 7.46 per cent of the state geographical area. However, there is a major decline in the tree cover, that is trees outside the forest area. Forest officials said the decline in tree cover is attributed to large-scale tree cutting in various parts of the state for development projects.
The officer said, "For the road widening project on Ahmedabad-Nalsarovar road the forest department had given permission to cut over 2,500 trees." A senior official, refusing to be named, said, "The Supreme Court has in one of the orders said that the state government should have 10 km area as eco sensitive zones to protect the ecology of the area, but Gujarat government is yet to declare such a zone in several sanctuaries, including Nalsarovar."
Surat sees largest rise in forest cover
Interestingly, the Surat district has recorded the largest increase in the forest cover in the state. Forest officials in Surat give credit to various afforestation programmes for the rise in green cover of the area. National Afforestation Programme (NAP) and Gujarat Forestry Development Project (GFDP) phase II are the two major projects under which maximum plantation has been carried out in the area. "The afforestation programmes like NAP and GFDP are running since last few years which resulted in the rise in number of trees in the area. The joint forest management committee run by the forest department and locals is one of the major factors for rise in green cover and reduction in tree felling," said Anil Vasava, deputy conservator of forest, Surat.
State lacks forest policy
Gujarat, which has four national parks and 22 sanctuaries, lacks its own forest policy. Even the Comptroller and Auditor General of India in its report had pointed out that the national forest commission had recommended that each state should have its heir own forest policy within the broad parameters of the national forest policy 1988. But such policy is missing. The forest policy is for management of the forest in the states. The policy is to address issues pertaining to conserving natural forests among others.

Is bird-tourism possible in Gujarat?

Shyam Parekh | Monday, January 30, 2012 
While the world was busy discussing recession and Eurozone crisis and India was obsessed with the nth warning by Anna Hazare to have a strong Lokpal Bill, a small conference quietly concluded in Gandhinagar. It was the second edition of Gujarat Bird Watchers' Conference. Shorn of quite many feathers and the glory compared with the 2010 event, the conference saw flocking of birds, err… birders of the same feather! It was interesting and shocking at the same time to hear them chirp some birdy tales.
A bird-watcher friend animatedly described poaching incidents that he witnessed at birding sites like Nal Sarovar and in the Little Rann of Kutch. He had some pictures which he wanted me to see. He wanted me to do something to stop rampant poaching. Indeed disturbing. But what was more disturbing was the fact that he refused to go on record or even spare pictures - for the fear of being found out! He was afraid of being persecuted by the authorities. But what can a newspaper do without any evidence or on-the-record comment? In the past, any journalistic attempts to expose poaching or threats to the avifauna have been invariably followed by notices from the forest department either challenging the attempt to expose something or sometimes even booking the journalist for an alleged crime of poaching!
A well-known wildlife photographer complained how the access to the best of the protected areas was denied to him by local foresters. The lensman had dared to release some pictures depicting some poaching and tree-felling. On top of that he dared to say no to the forest officer's wish to take credit for a beautiful and rare picture of lions that the photographer had taken!Needless to say, his career as a wildlife photographer has been ruined to some extent. Shooting the messenger is not going to help conservation.At the same time those attempting to contribute towards conservation should learn not to get deterred by such vested interests.

The most shocking part of the conference was that the second edition was a quite scaled down and lacklustre affair. The more unbelievable part was that forest officials, who are entrusted with conservation, were conspicuous of their absence. The event was attended by bird watchers, ornithologists, conservationists and wildlife photographers from over a dozen countries! Gujarat is home to over 40% of the avifauna of India and one of the finest birding destinations in the world. But, when it was hosting probably the only such event in India, how can Gujarat Forest Department, the custodian of conservation of birds, be away?
Interestingly, some of the most renowned names in bird-watching in Gujarat too stayed away from the event. Was it that their fragile ego was hurt or that the organizers were not organized enough to invite them? Whatever happened, the kind of fillip such an event could have given to the conservation activities by bringing all stakeholders on the same platform, did not happen. One hopes, these were teething troubles and next time on it will.
The state government which rightly saw a great opportunity in promoting bird tourism in Gujarat should not leave conservation of birds only to some of the disinterested employees of the forest department; neither to the bird-watchers - who usually love to bash media! Some of them love to blame media for everything that goes wrong on the conservation front. Interestingly, if a demoiselle crane is identified as a common crane there will be half a dozen phone calls for sure, the first thing in the day! The poor editor will be put to great shame for the unforgivable error. But when a demoiselle crane has been killed and when the media tries to talk to these very people, they usually refrain from talking saying "this is too controversial".
Conservation of birds, their habitats and wetlands is a far more complex and challenging issue. It needs an unusual approach - particularly for a state like Gujarat. The state government should be proactive in setting up an apex body that has conservation of birds as its sole objective, irrespective of the departments which have a stake in birding habitats - forest, irrigation and revenue.
Such a body can also grant accreditations to wildlife photographers, professional and amateur ones, to access protected areas for photography. This will ensure that the photographers are not forced to capture only what the foresters want them to, they end up contributing to conservation and documentation of natural heritage fearlessly.
The author is the resident editor of DNA Ahmedabad

Monday, February 6, 2012

Registration Open For Annual 5k And Family Fun Run.

Monday, 06 February 2012 00:00 Westchester Sports & Recreation NewsBronx, NY - Calling all runners, walkers, and athletic hopefuls – it is time to lace-up your running shoes to prepare for New York City’s wildest race: the fourth annual Wildlife Conservation Society’s Run for the Wild at WCS’s Bronx Zoo.
This year’s 5k-run/walk takes place on Saturday, April 28, 2012 and is dedicated to saving lions, their habitat and other wildlife. The Wildlife Conservation Society works across Africa and in the native range of lions in places such as Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda, and Nigeria’s Yankari National Park.
WCS’s Run for the Wild registration is now open at Registration for the run is $35 for adults, $25 for children (3–15), and $25 for seniors (65+). Participants are encouraged to seek individual sponsors for their run, and all adult (and senior) participants are required to raise a minimum of at least $30 in order to participate.
“The WCS Run for the Wild has become a favorite of New Yorkers and many have been participating annually since the beginning,” said John Calvelli, WCS Executive Vice President of Public Affairs. “We are anticipating another tremendous turn-out of runners, walkers, families, and wildlife enthusiasts – all of which will be doing their part to help save lions and other wildlife.”
Participants can choose from two different events. The 5k run for individual runners will begin at 8:00 a.m.; casual runners and walkers can take part in the Family Fun Run/Walk at 8:45 a.m.
The event promises an exciting day for runners and walkers, and there will be plenty of post-run festivities including refreshments, music, children’s activities, and more.
After the run, participants are invited to stay and enjoy the zoo and its animal residents for the rest of the day. Everyone is encouraged to visit the Bronx Zoo’s famous African Plains exhibit where they can see African lions and many of their prey species like zebras, Thomson’s gazelles, nyala, giraffes, and more. There are many other wonderful exhibits to visit including Tiger Mountain, Madagascar!, Congo Gorilla Forest, and JungleWorld. Complimentary parking and admission will be provided.
Prizes will be awarded to those who meet various fundraising goals. For $30 in pledges, runners will earn a WCS Run for the Wild T-shirt; $60 earns a plush lion; $125 earns a water bottle; $275 earns a Jackrabbit Sports gift card and a New York Yankees cap; $600 earns a gym bag; $1500 earns a breakfast and a special Bronx Zoo animal experience. Visit for the details.
The Wildlife Conservation Society works around the globe to save wildlife and wild places. Lions are an iconic species and symbolic of strength. Today, fewer than 30,000 remain. Over the last 50 years, their range has collapsed catastrophically to a relatively small number of countries and protected areas. The lions of Asia have been all but wiped out. Today, Asiatic lions exist only on a single reserve, the Gir Forest in India. North Africa lost all of their lions a century ago and they have been steadily disappearing in other parts of the continent. There are few places conservationists would consider a safe haven for the species.
This event will sell out, so register early. For more information, to register, or to sponsor a runner/team, visit
WCS’s Run for the Wild is made possible by the following generous sponsors:
Presenting Sponsor: Con Edison
Featured Sponsors: Monroe College, Montefiore
Supporting Sponsors: Stevia In The Raw, UBS
Media Partners: ABC7
The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Adult admission is $16, children (3-12 years old) $12, children under 3 are free, seniors (65+) are $14. Parking is $13 for cars and $16 for buses. The Bronx Zoo is conveniently located off the Bronx River Parkway at Exit 6; by train via the #2 or #5 or by bus via the #9, #12, #19, #22, MetroNorth, or BxM11 Express Bus service (from Manhattan that stops just outside the gate.) To plan your trip, visit or call 718-367-1010.