Lion deaths: Gujarat HC asks state government to give ‘specific’ info

The order came during a hearing on a PIL that has raised the issue of frequent deaths of lions in the Gir forest area.

A photo of Gir Wildlife Sanctuary. Express photo by Javed Raza

The Gujarat High Court on Wednesday directed the state government to file a fresh affidavit, giving details of the steps taken in the last couple of years to stop death of Asiatic lions in and around the Gir forest caused by open wells, electrocution, vehicular traffic among others.

The Division Bench, led by Chief Justice R Subhash Reddy, sought “specific information” on the number road accidents in which lions were killed, construction of railway tracks passing through forest area, covering of water wells where lions get trapped, steps to stop electrocution of lions among others.

The order came during a hearing on a PIL that has raised the issue of frequent deaths of lions in the Gir forest area.
Earlier, the state government had filed an affidavit in which it described its efforts taken in the past to save and increase the population of lions, and said how the population of the Asiatic lions had grown since 2008. However, the Chief Justice said that government should inform the court about the specific steps taken in the past two years to stop lion deaths.

According to the affidavit, filed by Chief Conservator of Forests (Junagadh) Anirudh Pratap Singh, there are 323 lions inside Gir protected areas, while around 200 are outside it. It stated that the lion habitat is spread over 1,648 sq kms, claiming that “friction between lions and local people are bare minimum”.

It also stated that there were only two cases of lions being killed by locals in 2017-2018, and there was no such case reported in the previous years.

The affidavit claimed that 184 lion deaths were reported in 2016 and 2017. “It may be considered that of the 184 reported deaths, 19 were of lions in captivity and 165 in wild areas (93 in 2016 and 72 in 2017),” the affidavit stated.

A table presented in the affidavit stated that in the last two years, nine lions were killed in open wells, three by electrocution, two by poisoning, two in rail accidents, two in road accident, one in trapping, two drowning, while in the case of two deaths reasons are not known.

According to the affidavit, the state government gives Rs 8,000 subsidy for construction of parapet wall of open wells around the protected forest. Stating that the amount is less, the affidavit said that there are “approximately 30,000 open wells in the Gir lion landscape which have been protected” by the scheme. It stated that the government increased the subsidy to Rs 16,000 per well.

On the laying of 260.7-km-long railway track between Pipavav port to Surendranagar that passes through the lion habitat in Amreli district, the affidavit stated that “the government decided to erect chain-link fencing on both sides of railway tracks to protect lion from accidents”.