In a fresh affidavit submitted to the Gujarat High Court in connection with the increasing incidents of lion deaths, the state government on Friday said that there are over 50,000 wells in Gir forest area, and out of them 17,958 are yet to be covered with parapet. Two weeks ago, the High Court had directed the state government to give specific details of the steps taken in the last couple of years to stop the death of Asiatic lions caused by open wells, electrocution and vehicular traffic among others.
In the fresh affidavit, the government claimed that it will cover the open wells, in which lions often get trapped and killed, with enclosures by the end of 2019. “The work of enclosing wells is in progress, and as far as possible it shall be the endeavour of the forest department that by the end of 2019, all open wells shall be enclosed,” stated the new affidavit signed by Dushyant T Vasavda, chief conservator of forest, wildlife circle, Junagadh.
It added that the government spent Rs 22.30 crore in covering 32,559 wells. The government had earlier informed the High Court that in the past two years, nine lions were killed in open wells. With incidents of lions getting killed in the open wells becoming frequent, the government had increased the subsidy given to locals to cover these wells by parapet from Rs 8,000 to Rs 16,000 this year.
The latest affidavit also assured the High Court that the chain-fencing of the 86.8-km railway track that passes through the lion habitat of Amreli district will be completed in six months. The government said that till now, fencing has been completed till 81.6 km of the track. The forest department also told the court that apart from nine deaths of lions in the past two years, three were killed by electrocution, two by poisoning, two in rail accidents, two in road accident, one in trapping, two drown in sea tide, while in the case of two deaths reasons are not yet known.
“It is again assured that the state government is alive to the situation and ensure that Asiatic lions, which only survive in the Gir landscape, are well guarded and the species is well preserved under the aegis of the Forest Department of the state of Gujarat,” the affidavit stated. According to government figures, there are 323 lions inside the Gir protected areas, while around 200 are outside it, and in the last two years — 2016 and 2017 — 184 lion deaths were reported.