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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

State Board for Wildlife: Change of guard in Gujarat puts crucial meeting on hold

The 20th meeting of the SBWL was scheduled to be convened at the official residence of the Chief Minister in Gandhinagar on September 15.

Written by Gopal Kateshiya | Rajkot |
September 21, 2021 12:30:42 pm
A few members of the board had opposed the proposal saying it would be detrimental to the safety of endangered Asiatic lions whose only natural home in the world is Gir forest. (File)

A CRUCIAL meeting of the State Board for Wildlife (SBWL) where issues such as diversion of land for widening and electrification of the railway-line passing through the Gir sanctuary was likely to be discussed, has been postponed indefinitely due to the change of government in the state.

Also, the tenure of the 10 conservationists, ecologists and environmentalists who were serving on the board as non-official members expired on Monday, even as Kiritsinh Rana, the new Environment and Forest Minister took charge of his office, and there has been no official announcement of extension of their tenure or induction of new experts.

The 20th meeting of the SBWL was scheduled to be convened at the official residence of the Chief Minister in Gandhinagar on September 15. Office of the principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), Shyamal Tikadar, who is ex-officio secretary of the SBWL, had circulated the agenda for the meeting on September 6. However, Vijay Ruapani, then chief minister, who is ex-officio chairman of the SBWL, tendered his resignation on September 11, forcing the postponement of the meeting.

“We have sent a file to the office of the minister for deciding the next date of the meeting. We have also forwarded the file on the tenure of a few members of the board expiring. We have suggested that the tenure be extended or new expert members be inducted into the board,” a top functionary of the SBWL told The Indian Express.

The agenda for the September 15 meeting included approving minutes of the 19th meeting of the SBWL held on September 29 last year when one of the agenda items was approving diversion of 148.14 hectare (ha) land for a proposed project to convert the Visavadar-Talala-Delvada meter-gauge railway line into broad-gauge and electrifying this section. The railway line passes through western part of Gir.

Board members who attended the 19th meeting claim that the meeting, presided over by then CM Vijay Rupani, had decided to return the proposal to the PCCF (WL) with a direction to get a wildlife impact assessment done. A few members of the board had opposed the proposal saying it would be detrimental to the safety of endangered Asiatic lions whose only natural home in the world is Gir forest.

“We had drawn the attention of the board that gauge conversion can facilitate faster movement of trains that can put the animals in danger. The chairman of the Board observed that the project will not be given a green signal as it passess through core Gir area.

Eventually, the meeting decided that the user agency would be asked to get a wildlife impact assessment done. However, minutes of the 19th
meeting made available to Board members in November last year stated that the proposal of diverting 148.14 ha of land of Gir sanctuary for gauge-conversion and electrification of the track was approved by the Board. Therefore, the minutes of the last meeting were to become a contentious issue at the 20th meeting,” sources said.

The three-year tenure of the 10 experts or non-official members of the board was originally due to expire in September last year and was extended by a year. The extension expired on September 20, 2021.

The non-official members include wildlife photographer and conservationist Bhushan Pandya, former principal of Kadvibai Virani School of Rajkot Sonal Shah, Prof Nishith Dharaiya of Patan, Snehal Patel of Nature Club, Surat, biologist and wildlife conservationist Priyvart Gadhvi, Dhanraj Nathwani of Reliance Industries Limited, retired PCCF and Head of Forest Force CN Pandey, retired PCCF and chief wildlife warden of Gujarat SC Pant, Gujarat State Forest Development Corporation chairman Prof Kuber Dindor and Ganesh Birari, a tribal from Valsad.

SBWL is a statutory body constituted under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1971. The Board advises the government in the selection and management of areas to be declared as Protected Areas (PAs), in formulating policies for conservation and protection of wildlife and specified plant species, as well as harmonising needs of tribals and other forest dwellers vis-à-vis conservation of wildlife.
The agenda of the 20th meeting also included discussion on wildlife management and conservation action in view of the cyclone Tauktae which, the government says, uprooted more than 90 lakh trees in Gir forest. “A few road projects passing through protected areas were also to be discussed,” a Board member said.

The SBWL is required to meet at least twice in a year. But it has not met since September 29 last year.

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