Ahmedabad, India — Is the forest fire in Mityala range of Gir Wildlife Sanctuary last month taking massive political proportions in wake of the scheduled Supreme Court hearing on lions’ movement?
A day after the fire gutted 300 hectares of scrub grass in Gir forest, the Union ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) demanded a report from the state government on the fire and the safety measures taken for the lions.
Forest officials in Gujarat, and those acquainted with the dispute over moving the lions to Madhya Pradesh believe this move of the MoEF is to create a controversy ahead of the SC hearing. Fires, forest officials claim, are a regular feature in Gir, as in all forests of the country, and a report is not demanded by MoEF after every incident.
“A mountain is being made out of a molehill regarding the forest fire. It is being made out that the fire was a threat to the lions. Forest fires have always been happening in the deciduous forest, particularly in this dry season. It is as such a routine matter. During my tenure, report was not demanded after every minor fire,” said former wildlife warden GA Patel. Conservator of forest, Junagadh, MM Sharma said the fire was so minor that deer were found loitering in that area the very next day.
“One of the parameters of judging the damage is whether the wildlife has been scared off that area or not. The fact in this case is they are not. The fire was minor, controlled immediately, and at least 8-10 km from the closest lion pride,” he added.
Hearing on a petition filed by wildlife activist Faiyaz Khudsar is scheduled for hearing in the Supreme Court in a few days. He has pleaded that some of the lions should be moved to MP fearing the entire population will be wiped out in case of an epidemic.
With the Lok Sabha elections scheduled in April, the issue of shifting the lions to MP may take political hue with Gujarat government refusing to part with a single lion. “A few hundred crores have been spent on relocating and rehabilitating 26 villages from Kuno-Palpur sanctuary. With no lions coming, MoEF is in a tight spot to explain these expenses to CAG.
The experiment to move the lions to MP has failed twice before,” Patel added.