“The sub-divisional magistrate of Mendarda is conducting a survey of hotels near the Gir sanctuary with the help of local mamlatdar, taluka panchayat officers, district panchayat officers, forest officers and officers from Paschim Gujarat Vij Company Limited (PGVCL). The officers are verifying if the hotels or resorts have licence, if they have been constructed on non-agricultural land, if a hotel is using a power generator set of more than 100 kilowatt, has got the permission from the PGVCL etc,” Sanjay Modi, resident additional collector (RAC) of Junagadh, told The Sunday Express.
The RAC said he did not have any idea as to how may hotels, resorts and farmhouses were under the scanner. But sources claimed more 30 such establishments were being surveyed.
Similarly, officers in Gir-Somnath district have issued notices to 48 hotels and resorts. “Forest department had provided us the list of 48 hotels which are functioning close to the sanctuary area. We have issued them notices and sought their response latest by February 23. We have asked them to provide documents related to their hotels and similar establishments,” Gir-Somnath collector Chandubhai Patel said.
Patel added that majority of the hotels were located near Sasan Gir, a village on the border of the sanctuary from where the forest department issues permissions for lion safaris.
On the other hand, similar survey is going on in Dhari taluka of Amreli district also which is located on the eastern tip of the Gir sanctuary. “There are not many hotels on the borders of Gir sanctuary in Amreli district as there is not any tourist circuit in this part of the sanctuary. But we have come to know that a couple of hotels are there. We are surveying them and will take suitable action,” said Amreli district collector Ajay Kumar.
Junagadh RAC said that after going through records, they will start issuing closure notices to unauthorised hotels and farmhouses from February 25 onward.
Acting on a public interest litigation, the High Court had on February 10 directed the state government to close all the unauthorised hotels and resorts functioning in buffer zone by March 5. According to existing forest laws, area extending up to two kilometre from the border of a sanctuary is classified as buffer zone.
Gir forest is the only natural habitat of the Asiatic lions. After Khushboo Gujarat Ki ad campaign of Gujarat tourism department, record number of tourist footfall has been registered at Sasan Gir and nearby Devaliya Gir Interpretation Zone in the last five years. But the increased tourist flow has also led to mushrooming of unauthorised farmhouses and resorts, forest officers say.