Almost seven months after one person was killed and two were injured in a lion attack at Devaliya Safari Park near Gir forest in Junagadh district, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued a notice to the state government urging it to take action within eight weeks.
On November 29, 2018 two lions attacked Rajnish Keshwala and Dinesh Kacha, labourers inside the safari park, when they were leading the lions to their cage as per regular routine. Keshwala was dragged into the forest and attacked fiercely by the lions. He succumbed to injuries. Dinesh tried to save him and was attacked too, but he managed to escape. Kacha immediately informed the officials of the forest department.
After receiving the information, over 50 staffers began a search for Keshwala. After nearly two hours, Keshawala’s body was found deep inside the forest. While recovering Keshwala’s body, another labourer, Meraman Bharda, was also attacked.
In its notice addressed to the secretary of forest and environment department on July 5, the NHRC directed it to “take appropriate action within eight weeks”.
Ajay Dubey, wildlife activist from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, sought action against the state chief conservator and principal chief conservator of forests stating that since the death was due to an illegal activity, the state government’s accountability for the incident should be fixed.
As per Section 38-H (1A) and Section 38-H (1) of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, prior permission of the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) is required to run a safari. As per the provisions, the legal status of a safari park such as Devaliya is that of a ‘zoo’ because animals are kept in captivity, the complaint stated.
Dubey in his complaint also pointed out that Devaliya Safari Park had been functioning without requisite permission from the CZA or recognition as per provisions of the Wild Life Act, 1972.
“If the state government does not respond to the NHRC notice and take action within eight weeks, we will approach the Supreme Court,” Dubey said.
“The state government has acted in complete disregard of its duties laid down in Part IV (Direc-tive Principles) of the Constitution as well as international instruments with respect to the safety and health risks of its employees. It is further submitted that the state government has failed to protect the right to safe and healthy working conditions of the victims as envisaged under Article 7 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” the complaint stated.
“It has also been admitted by D T Vasavada, the Chief Conservator of Forest, Wildlife Circle, Junagadh, that the safari is run by the department of forest. Further, his refusal to comment on the CZA notice hints at the fact that the Devaliya Safari Park was running without complying with the requirements and taking necessary approval under the law,” the complaint further stated.
On the illegal operation of the safari park, the CZA letter stated, “It is observed from the records that the Devaliya Safari Park, Junagadh neither obtained prior permission of the CZA under Section 38-H(A) of the Wild Life (Prevention) Act 1972 for establishment of the safari, nor obtained recognition from the CZA for operation of the Devaliya Safari Park.”
Chief Conservator of Forests, Junagadh Wildlife Circle, D T Vasavada, said, “We have replied to this CZA letter within the stipulated time. The safari is not run illegally and we have permission.”
“Compensation of Rs 4 lakh was given to the deceased’s family and the injured were also compensated. I am yet to receive the NHRC notice,” Vasavada added.