The creation of Gir Somnath by bifurcating Junagadh district,the land of Asiatic lions in Saurashtra,has not gone down well with some in Junagadh,but those falling in the new district are gleeful at the prospect of new possibilities.
Gir Somnath has been created by axing Una,Talala,Kodinar,Veraval and Sutrapada talukas away from Junagadh. However,small-scale protests are going on in Talala to retain Sasan Gir,the headquarters of state forest department which handles lion safaris,and a few other villages in Junagadh.
Even as the Gujarat government is fighting a legal battle against the translocation of lions to Madhya Pradesh,the protesters fear Junagadh will lose its identity if Sasan Gir,a village of Talala taluka,goes to Gir Somnath. Besides the famous Somnath temple,all major industrial complexes and a coastline,measuring 110-kilometre and dotted by eight ports,have already become part of the new district. The cement plant of Ambuja in Kodinar,arguably the biggest industrial establishment in the undivided Junagadh district,is now in Gir Somnath. Similarly,the cement plant of Gujarat Siddhi Cement Limited is also located in Sutrapada taluka. Indian Rayon,a major producer of viscose filament yarn of Aditya Birla Group,is based in Veraval town. Veraval also hosts a number of sea-food processing units.
However,without Gir forests as its part,the nomenclature of the new district will sound somewhat irrelevant. Local Congress MLA Jashubhai Barad is also against dividing Talala. There is politics behind these protests. Those protesting the annexation of Sasan Gir,Bhalchhel,Haripur,Hiranvel and Bhojde villages into Gir Somnath are demanding not to divide Gir and Girnar. However,the residents of these villages want to be part of the new district and they are also demanding that Gir cant be taken away from them. So,the entire Talala taluka has to be with Gir Somnath, Barad says.
Incidentally,Talala is the largest producer and market of Kesar mango in the state. Barad says the creation of new district will augur well for the region. There is tremendous potential to promote eco and religious tourism here. A tourism circuit covering Sasan Gir,Somnath and Diu needs to be developed with better infrastructure. While the cement industry has scope for further expansion,ports also need to be upgraded, the MLA says.
The new district has eight ports and harbours ?Veraval,Hirakot,Mul Dwarka,Madhvad,Kotda,Nava Bandar,Saiyad Rajapara and Dhamrej. It is likely to give a unitary identity to fisherman communities of Kharvas and and Kolis and facilitate their organisation as a political constituency. So far we have been under-represented in politics and government. However,the new district will have a concentration of around 1.5 lakh Kharvas. This will help us get recognition as a political constituency, says Velji Masani,vice-president of Gujarat Fishermen Association.
Masani is also hopeful that the new administration will pay attention to the development of ports. As of now Veraval port has the facility to harbour 1,000 fishing trawlers. However,there is a scope for its development and the expansion of its capacity to 2,500 trawlers. Dredging also remains a problem at this port. We hope the new administration addresses these issues, he adds.
Meanwhile,the new administration has identified cleanliness in Veraval town,the headquarters of the new district,as its top priority. Besides being a port town,Veraval also sustains the rush of pilgrims at Somnath. So,cleanliness is a major problem. We shall put in place a system for solid waste management and lay under-ground drains on priority basis, Chandu Patel,collector of Gir Somnath,says.
Shree Somnath Trust,which manages Somnath temple enshrining Aadi jyotirling of Lord Shiva,expects improvement in connectivity to the temple. We would welcome improvement in highways leading to the temple. We also need to develop some solutions to counter the smell emanating from fish drying yards of Veraval. They are sometimes hung near the temple premises, Pravin Laheri,secretary of the trust says.
According to Laheri,30,000 pilgrims on an average visit the temple everyday.
Whether Sasan Gir stays with Gir Somnath or goes back to Junagadh,the collector of the new district will likely host a number of VIP visitors,including LK Advani,who comes to the shrine frequently for darshan.