WILDLIFE CONSERVATIONISTS have raised eyebrows after the state irrigation department started desilting Shingoda dam in Gir National Park and Sanctuary (GNPS), the only core habitat of Asiatic lions in the world, by using heavy machinery last week, as part of Sujalam Sufalam Jal Abhiyan, the ongoing water conservation campaign of the state government. Two excavators chugged into the Shingoda dam, a reservoir located inside the national park area of GNPS, the highly protected forest near Jamwala in Gir (west) forest division on Sunday. A train of tractors followed them and they started to cart away silt from the bed of the dam.
The whirring of the excavators and the rocking of tractors are playing havoc with wild animals and birds, complain conservationists. “National park is a highly protected forest area. But, here, the captain himself is rocking the boat. The government has started this desilting drive without following due procedure. The government says Shingoda dam is being desilted in public interest. But in national park, the interests of wildlife and forest enjoy primacy. The interest of people comes second. This activity will play havoc with the fauna there. Such a thing has never happened in Gir,” said Bhushan Pandya, a member of state wildlife board of Gujarat and a conservationist.
“Even the staff of the forest department has limited access to a national park. Only the wildlife warden of a state has the power to authorise entry inside a national park for such an activity. And it is incumbent upon the wildlife warden to consult the National Board for Wildlife before issuing such permission. No such procedure has been followed. The activity is clear violation of the provisions of Wildlife (Protection) Act,0 1972,” Pandya added. He also alleged that people were actually mining boulders in the name of removing silt.
Rameshchandra Padhya, a wildlife lover from Ahmedabad, served a legal notice to Chief Minister Vijay Rupani on May 3, requesting the CM not to undertake desilting of Shingoda dam. Padhya said his notice was in form of request but if the authorities did not respond to it positively, he would move the Gujarat High Court. Located near Jamwala village in Jamwala range forest, Shingoda dam is accessible through a 1.5-km-long approach in the forest leading to Dhari-Kodinar road.
Bhavesh Chowatiya, superintending engineer of Rajkot irrigation circle which covers Shingoda dam, however, says they have due permission to carry out the operations. “Officers of our sub-division in Junagadh are handling the operation but I am told the desilting drive was started only after competent authorities gave their permission,” he said.
Sources in the irrigation department said that Ram Ratan Nala, the Deputy Conservator of Forest (DCF) of wildlife division of Sasan, had issued the authority letter to the irrigation department to carry out desilting activity. “The forest department has given the permission to operate two excavators for digging silt from the dam and carting it out to agricultural fields by using tractors. They have allowed 100 tractor trips per day. Farmers of surrounding villages are deploying around 15 to 30 tractors to transport the silt to their farms. The department has been given the target to remove 15,000 cubic metre of silt from the dam by end of this month,” said a source.
Shingoda dam is one of the four major irrigation dams located inside GNPS. Construction of the dam had started in 1973 and it was completed in 1980. But as it is located inside a protected forest, the irrigation department also reserves some amount of water for the wildlife. Officers in irrigation department said that it has not been desilted at least in the last one decade. This year, it was filled up to 63 per cent of its capacity.
Text messages and phone calls to Gyanendra Sinha, principal chief conservator of forests and chief wildlife warden of Gujarat, Aniruddh Pratap Singh, chief conservator of forest of Junagadh wildlife circle and the Sasan DCF, yielded no response. However, sources said that the Sasan DCF had given the permission to allow entry of tractors and excavators “as discussed at a meeting with additional chief secretary (forest and environment) in Gandhinagar”.