“We completed sealing of all the 48 unauthorised hotels, farm houses and resorts located near the sanctuary on Friday evening. We had sealed around 30 of these units on Thursday while the rest were sealed today,” Bhagwan Hirani sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) of Veraval in Gir Somnath district told The Indian Express.
The SDM said that the unauthorised hospitality units which they sealed were located in Bhojde, Chitrod, Borvav, Ankolvadi and Madhapar villages on the fringes of Gir forest. Gir forest and protected areas spread across Gir Somnath, Junagadh, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts in Saurasthra region of Gujarat are the only natural home of Asiatic lions in the world. The Asiatic lion has been put into category of an endangered species by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an international organisation working for conservation of environment and biodiversity, and there were only 411 lions according census, 2010. “Majority of these hospitality units were functioning without obtaining mandatory no-objection certificate from forest department. Besides they were constructed on agricultural land and also did not have licences from the district administration,” Hirani further said.
Officers also cut down electricity supply to the sealed units.
Sasan-Gir, another village on the border of the sanctuary and where office of the superintendent NGPWS is located, has turned into a hot tourist destination over the last five years. It has become famous for lion safaris after advertisement campaign of Gujarat tourism department. But the rush of the tourists has also led to cropping up of a number of unauthorised hospitality units in the villages near Sasan-Gir.
A public interest litigation (PIL) moved before the Gujarat High Court (HC) has alleged that these units are hindering movement of lions and other wild animals. Acting on this PIL, the HC had on February 10 directed state government to close all the unauthorised hotels and farm-houses by March 5.
While majority of these units are located in Gir Somnath district, officials in Junagadh also took action against some eateries. “There were 14 hospitality units under our scanner. Of them, four hotels are found to have valid licences and required clearances from forest department. But the rest 10 were functioning as roadside eateries or dhaba without any formal setup but also without any formal approval from authorities. Therefore, we have closed them down with the help of police,” Jayesh Mayatra, SDM of Mendarda division in Junagadh district said.
“We have not cut power supply given for agricultural purpose. We have snapped power supply to only unauthorised hospitality units functioning on agricultural land or in violation of tenure of land,” the Veraval SDM clarified.
Similar action was on against a few hospitality units in Amreli district also. Amreli has parts of the eastern border of Gir forest. Officers said they have been asked to submit action taken reports to additional advocate general Prakash Jani by March 3.