The environment ministry plans to file an affidavit in SC about the difficulties of relocating the animals
New Delhi: Will the Asiatic lion remain restricted to Gujarat’s Gir forest? Looks like that may be the case as the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) has decided to file an affidavit in the Supreme Court about difficulties of relocating the animals from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh.
In April 2013, the Supreme Court ordered the shifting of some of Gujarat’s lions to the Kuno wildlife sanctuary in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh.
The apex court had directed the MoEFCC to shift them by October 2013. So far, not a single lion has been shifted.
“As per the latest lion census figures released last month, the population has reached 523 and that is a tremendous increase. Relocating them from their present habitat could be detrimental. Unlike tigers who stay alone, lions move in prides. So if you displace some of them from their present habitat, it will be detrimental to their breeding and survival," said a senior environment ministry official who did not want to be identified.
The official was part of a recent meeting at the MoEFCC, chaired by Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar, wherein experts expressed concern over any move to relocate the lions right now.
“The population of lions has stabilized after a lot of hard work. The view that emerged from the expert meeting, which included wildlife division officials, was that the move to Madhya Pradesh could destabilize their population. Thus it has been decided to prepare a fresh affidavit explaining the same. It will soon be filed with the Supreme Court to inform and clarify on the issue," the environment ministry official added.
Another environment ministry official said work on the affidavit has started.
The Asiatic lion, Panthera leo persica, evolved in Europe and is believed to have moved southward over millennia, and is now found only in Gujarat. It is classified as an endangered species. The African lion, on the other hand, is found in larger numbers and lives in sub-Saharan Africa.
The need for relocating the big cats from Gir was felt because environmentalists and wildlife conservations feared that an epidemic or natural calamity could wipe out the species if it is concentrated in a single forest.
Last month, the Gujarat government released the lion census figures, which put Gir’s population of the Asiatic lion at 523 in 2015, an increase of nearly 27% from 411 in 2010.
Following the 2013 Supreme Court order—after an appeal by Gujarat against the order was thrown out by the apex court—an expert group, including officials of MoEFCC, the Gujarat government, the Madhya Pradesh government and individuals such as Ravi Chellam, Y.V. Jhala and A.J.T. Johnsingh, prepared a draft action plan for shifting the lions.
But no lions were shifted.
Activists, already agitated by the non-implementation of the Supreme Court order, said they would oppose the affidavit. They point fingers at Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not allowing the relocation. As Gujarat chief minister, he had dubbed the lion the pride of Gujarat and vowed to not allow its relocation.
Ajay Dubey, secretary of non-governmental organization (NGO) Prayatna, which is at the forefront of the campaign to move the lions to Madhya Pradesh, said a contempt petition in view of non-implementation of the order is already pending before the Supreme Court.
“We will fight MoEFCC tooth and nail if they file any such affidavit. We are also preparing to file additional documents in light of the new lion census figures. In the additional documents, we will highlight that forest areas in Gujarat are now saturated and that the population growth is leading to lion-human conflicts. We are also pondering over sitting on dharna at Jantar Mantar in Delhi," said Dubey.
He explained that the relocation plan was scientifically devised, under which only six lions were to be brought initially to Kuno. Thus, there would be no effect on the lion population in Gujarat. “The issue now requires urgent action. But the Gujarat government has put in many impossible conditions for relocation," he said.
Madhya Pradesh, meanwhile, has been quietly preparing the second home for Gujarat’s lions, and has informed the expert group that the prey base in Kuno has increased. The state government has already spent more than ₹ 60 crore on developing the sanctuary and relocating villagers.
Lion reintroduction is a long-term programme envisaging action over 25 years in accordance with the guidelines issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The plan was to bring a few dozen lions to Kuno over a period of 15-20 years.