Weeks after a farmer blocked a route, Gujarat forest department has reduced the number of permits for lion safaris in Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary (GNPWS) at Sasan-Gir in Junagadh district.
Naran Solanki, a farmer, blocked way to Bhambhafod check-post in early February after it was found that the dirt track on which safari vehicles were plying was crossing his agricultural land. After getting permission from sanctuary headquarters at Sasan Gir village, Safari vehicles entering GNPWS for watching Asiatic lions in the wild used to reach the check-post through the track crossing a mango orchid.
Similarly, after completing safaris, a few vehicles would exist the sanctuary from the same check-post and take the dirt track to return to Sasan.
But Solanki, who originally belongs to Chanduvav village in Veraval taluka of nearby Gir Somnath district, got his land in Sasan Gir village surveyed by district inspector of land records (DILDR) of Junagadh in September. The survey, according to Solanki, concluded that the dirt track used to reach Bhambhafod check-post was part of 32-bigha land that he had purchased seven years ago. Not only this, the survey also found that around seven bigha of that land was under the control of forest department.
Local forest officers refused to clear “encroachment” on seven bigha of Solanki’s land and instead suggested a joint survey of the piece of land. “Despite repeated requests, forest officers did not remain present for the joint survey. I also offered to allow forest department to use the dirt track if they were willing to clear encroachment on rest seven bigha of land. I waited for their response for four months but nothing happened. Therefore, I blocked the track,” Solanki said.
As vehicle movement was blocked on this entry point, safari traffic was diverted to another entry-point on SasanGir-Talala road. But in the third week of February, the forest department stopped giving spot permissions for lion safaris. The only way to get a permission was to apply online. This move reduced the number of daily safari permits to 45 from the routine 90.
“Traffic was becoming unmanageable at one entry point. So, we had no option but to halve the number safaris by not giving spot permission. The only way to seek permission was to apply online. Tourists coming to Sasan Gir without prior online permission are being diverted to Gir Interpretation Zone at Devaliya,” chief conservator of forests (CCF) for Junagadh wildlife division, Anirudh Singh said.
Gir Interpretation Zone is a safari park near Sasan Gir where a few Asiastic lions and other wild animals found in Gir forest are kept in captivity for purpose of tourism.
The CCF said they had sough help of district collector of Junagadh to resolve the issue of Bhambhafod check-post.
“Even if some part of land is private, it is not being cultivated for decades and has turned into a forest. We have written 48 letters to district collector and district development officer of Junagadh in the last four years to help resolve the issue. But nothing has been done so far,” Singh said.
The CCF added that he had one more time requested Junagadh collector to find out some solution to the problem so that tourism industry at Sasan Gir is not affected adversely.
After the forest department stopped giving spot permissions, Sasan Gypsy Association threatened to go on strike.
The only wild population of Asiatic lions in the world is surviving in Gir forest and protected areas spread across Junagadh, Gir-Somnath, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts in Saurashtra region of Gujarat. The 2010 census had estimated population of Asiatic lions to be 411.
After the Khushboo Gujarat Ki advertisement campaign by Gujarat Tourism Department, number of tourists visiting Sasan Gir have shot up many fold. More than four lakh tourists had visited the sanctuary in year 203-14.