NEW DELHI: The Gujarat government has reiterated it stand that some of Gir's lions can't be shifted to Madhya Pradesh because of rampant poaching in the neighbouring state. In the written submissions to the Supreme Court on Thursday after the final arguments were completed, the Modi government has said Madhya Pradesh has been unable to protect the tigers from poaching in Kanha and asked if it can be trusted with the safety of Gujarat's pride.
At the root of the fraternal fight between two BJP-ruled states is wildlife experts' concern that the concentration of the Asiatic lions in Gir at one site makes them vulnerable to extinction by epidemic of the kind that has been the cause of decimation of several other species. The Shivraj Singh Chauhan government reacted to the fear by offering to take the lions to MP's Kuno National Park that had been prepared to host tigers.
While the offer may have been motivated simply by the desire to boost MP's tourism potential, the Gujarat government sees it as a potential threat to its unique branding around the world as the sole sanctuary of the Asiatic lions in wild.
In an affidavit filed by Modi government's counsel, Hemantika Wahi, Gujarat has cited the finding of a special investigation team (SIT) report in 2009 to say "MP has no institutional capacity to protect existing tiger population which was being poached at several locations."
"The tiger population at Panna in Madhya Pradesh was around 25 in 2002. In seven years, the tiger population at Panna in April 2009 was 'zero'," the Gujarat government said as it sought to impress upon the Supreme Court that safety of the species must be considered paramount before implementing translocation project.
In Gujarat, the lions have been thriving - their population has risen from 180 in 1974 to 411 in 2010. The area of Gir's protected habitat has also expanded from 1,412 square km in 1974 to 10,500 square kilometers in 2010, argued the Gujarat government.
While "deplorable track record of MP" in protecting tigers as its chief objection, the Narendra Modi government has objected to MP's proposal by arguing that comprehensive scientific studies have not been carried on to assess whether Kuno can be the alternative location. It has called for a detailed assessment with the regard to availability of prey, suitability of conditions and other scientific and technical aspects ought to be carried out before the final call is taken.
It said the SIT report of 2009 recorded a finding that the maximum decline in the tiger population occurred between 2003 and 2005 which continued till 2008 and quoted section 12 of the Wild Life Act, which mandated that translocation may be done to "an alternative suitable habitat".
The Gujarat government said, "The notion of suitable habitat in the context of big cats includes a safe habitat where big cats are not poached. Given the recent record of the state of Madhya Pradesh were poaching has been rampant, no mandatory directions for translocation ought to be passed until a satisfactory track record over a number of years is proved by Madhya Pradesh."
"The facts on record establish the deplorable track record of Madhya Pradesh and it is too early to gauge whether there has been a systemic improvement and institutional change that would ensure the protection of big cats in Madhya Pradesh," the Modi government said.