Asiatic Lion - Mines threaten Gujarat's lions
December 2004: The status of the Gir National Park might have been consolidated, as evidenced from the rise in lion population to over 320 individuals. As Gir has reached its carrying capacity, lions have repopulated forests to the east and south, as far as the Porbandar coast. The state government has proposed to relocate a pride to the Barda Sanctuary, where a programme to boost the prey base is already underway.
In this light, the state government and central environment ministry’s clearance to Saurashtra Cement Co. Ltd. to expand its existing cement plant from 1.24 to 4.13 million tonnes per annum is a classic case of the right hand not knowing or caring what the left is doing. The plant in question is a mere 1.5 km. from the border of the Barda Sanctuary. The increased plant capacity is to be met by limestone from the mine lying adjacent to the plant.
Amit Jethwa of the Gir Nature Youth Club informs us that the Chief Wildlife Warden of Gujarat permitted the expansion via a letter dated March 19, 2004, as well as other correspondence. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), through Dr. P.L. Ahujarai, Additional Director, subsequently granted clearance vide a letter dated July 26, 2004.
No serious studies have been conducted to ascertain the impact of this increased activity adjoining a sanctuary. In any event, the wildlife conservation strategy released by the Prime Minister in January 2002 has asked for lands falling within 10 km. of any national park or sanctuary to be declared eco-sensitive under the Environment Protection Act. A notice to this effect has also been circulated to all state governments.
It has been pointed out that this is not the first time that wildlife interests have been sacrificed for commerce and industry, with the majority of the state administration, and officials at the MoEF serving as silent onlookers or worse.
The threat posed by industrial developments to the lions of Saurashtra is very real. Aside from Saurashtra Cements, other companies have received, applied for, or are interested in concessions in areas that are frequented by the lions. Gujarat Ambuja Cements Limited proposes to mine for limestone in a 642 ha. area of Lodhva village in Sutrapada taluka, Junagadh district. A public hearing was held on May 6, 2004, at which Amit Jethwa was the lone voice pointing out serious lacunae in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report, which does not even contain complete listings of the flora and fauna. The Junagadh district Collector, who was also Chairman of the public hearing committee, directed the project proponent to submit an amended report.
The area in question is on the boundary of Lodhva village in Sutrapada taluka of Junagadh district and adjoins the Dhamlej-Prasnavada Reserved Forest, home to between 12 to 15 Asiatic lions. Over 20 cattle-kill cases have been recorded in Lodhva over the last two years, evidence that the area is a permanent lion habitat. This matter has, however, not been given due importance in the EIA report. As per the directions of the EIA notification, clearance may be denied on the grounds of submission of false or inadequate data.
There are also several other existing and proposed limestone mines in lion habitats outside Gir such as Sugala-Jagatiya, Rampara, Vadnagar, Solaj and Vadnagar. It is ironic that while the Gujarat government refuses to cooperate in the relocation of one pride of lions to Palpur-Kuno in Madhya Pradesh (erstwhile lion habitat) on the grounds that the lions are ‘Gujarat’s pride’, it is simultaneously facilitating industrial projects that will without a shadow of doubt jeopardise the survival of the endangered cats.
Please take a few minutes to understand and then lend your name to the Sanctuary campaign to protest against the clearance of industrial projects in lion habitat in Saurashtra. You can take the first step by writing a polite letter along the lines suggested and posting it to the parties concerned.