AHMEDABAD: Field staff at the Gir Sanctuary in Sasan, who are responsible for the conservation and protection of the last abode of the Asiatic lion, have struck work. The forest department staff are protesting the suspension of two forest officials, against whom a police complaint had been lodged after a youth from Hadmatiya village had been arrested for holding illegal lion shows.
Meanwhile, a senior range forest officer (RFO), said that RFOs from all over the state will go on mass casual leave and go to Junagadh to register their protest and press for revocation of the suspension.
The strike in Sasan brought forest department work to a standstill in Gir and its vicinity. There were no staffers at check posts and the routine morning counts on various beats were not conducted. Officials said that fortunately, no major rescue calls were received. Forest department staffers, including rescue teams, sat on a dharna at the Junagadh office of the chief conservator of forests. The staffers are demanding that the suspension be revoked.
A recording of a voice message—asking forest department staff to unite against the politics being played out through the suspension—had gone viral on social media groups of forest department staffers.
The Gujarat forest department had suspended a range forest officer, P T Kaneria, and a forester, M M Bharwad, when a complaint was lodged against them at Talala police station after a detainee of theirs, Bharat Kalsaria, had attempted suicide. Kalsaria had been arrested for alleged involvement in organizing illegal lion shows.
On April 29, seven residents of Harmatiya village, including Kalsaria, were accused of holding an illegal lion show in Talala. "Kalsaria had been on the run ever since. On Tuesday, a forest department staffer had spotted him and he was detained. On finding him guilty of holding illegal lion shows, the officer fined him Rs 7,000 and then let him go. The department filmed his release as well," said a senior forest official.
Forest minister, Ganpat Vasava, said, "We are talking to the staff and the strike will soon be withdrawn. The staff want the suspension to be revoked. We had to take action as the person concerned had attempted suicide and made the allegations in his suicide note."
Non-government organizations association with conservation have also demanded that the suspension be revoked. Kishore Kotecha of Wildlife Conservation Trust, in a letter to the PCCF, said, "Our trust strongly condemns the unwarranted suspension of RFO Talala Kaneria and forester Bharwad. They have a strong record of having performed their duty diligently even at risk to their lives. Now,they are being punished. In support of our Gir and its lion conservation, we humbly request that their suspension order be revoked and an impartial inquiry be ordered. The department should file a petition in the high court for quashing of the FIR against the two forest staffers."