The 54.6 per cent jump in the population of lion outside Gir Sanctuary between 2011 and 2015 is “exerting pressure” on the existing protected areas as no new protected habitat for lions has been approved in Gujarat since 2008, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).
In its report on ‘economic sector’ of 2018, the CAG said that wildlife conservation efforts in Gujarat have yielded positive results as indicated by the increase in number of Asiatic lions from 308 in 2011 to 356 in 2015, but added that despite high instances of lion deaths outside Gir sanctuary — 106 by natural causes and 21 by unnatural causes in — the government did not approve new protected habitat for lions in the last one decade.
“In view of the rising population and high instances of deaths of lions outside the Gir Protected Area during 2012-13 to 2016-17, creation of new protected areas was one of the available options with the forest department,” it said, adding that last extension of habitat for lion was approved by the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change of the Union government in 2008.
“The proposal submitted (March 2016) for draft Eco Sensitive Zone notification for Gir Protected Area also reports that the latest census should be taken as a sign of warning as nearly one-third (32 per cent) of lions have their habitat outside the Gir Protected Area, risking human lives, livestock as well as the safety of the lions themselves,” it added.
Pointing to the delays in increasing the protected areas for wildlife, the CAG in its report stated: “The audit observed that the Revenue Department was approached (November 2010) for transfer of government wasteland in favour of Forest and Environment Department, the same has not been transferred.”
Highlighting the 2005 proposal of creating a safe corridor for lions moving out of the Gir protected areas, the national auditor stated that the government has been reducing the proposed land for the protected area from 30,152.32 hectares to just 4,811.51 hectares.
“The Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Junagadh, had proposed in November 2005 to declare 30152.32 hectares of villages of Palitana, Mahuva, Talaja, Khamba and Savarkundla talukas of Bhavnagar and Amreli districts as Sir Dharam Kumar Singhji Wildlife Sanctuary to provide a safe corridor for lions moving out of the Gir protected areas… The proposal was modified (August 2006) and it was decided to declare the area as a Conservation Reserves (CR). Revised proposal for reduced area of 11,155.18 hectare was submitted in June 2007 which was further reduced in October 2010 to 10,953 hectare. The forest department in November 2010 had informed the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) that the proposal of declaring the CR was under consideration and further directed to initiate the procedure of transferring 4,811.51 hectares of government wasteland of Amreli district in favour of the forest department,” the report added.
In Gujarat, the total area of 28 Protected Areas that includes wildlife sanctuary, national park and conservation reserves is 17,099.93 square kilometre. Out of this only 4,640.58 square kilometre is forest land, the remaining is non-forest ecosystems.