Rampant illegal mining in Gir ups risk of man-lion conflict
Rampant illegal mining inside the eco-sensitive zone around the Gir sanctuary in Gujarat – the last abode of Asiatic lion – has only added to the threat to wildlife even as foresters are struggling to contain man-animal conflict in and around the Gir forests.india Updated: Sep 27, 2016 13:44 IST
Rampant illegal mining inside the eco-sensitive zone around the Gir sanctuary in Gujarat – the last abode of Asiatic lion – has only added to the threat to wildlife even as foresters are struggling to contain man-animal conflict in and around the Gir forests.
Besides endangering the life of big cats by encroaching upon their natural habitat, mining activities have also increased the risk of lion attacks on humans. Rising lion population has already seen a spurt in such attacks in the sanctuary, resulting in three human deaths and caging of 17 suspected man-eater lions in the first half of 2016. The lions are still in captivity. If it is established that a lion is indeed a man-eater, it spends the rest of its life in a zoo.
More than 100 lions out of the total 523 in the sanctuary (as per the last count in 2015) have dispersed to the peripheral coastal belt of Gir-Somnath and Amreli districts. Forest officials said that in this belt in the western patch of Gir, at least 30 sandstone and blackstone mines are thriving inside the eco-sensitive zone where any developmental activity is banned. These mines are located within a radius of one to seven kilometres of the sanctuary’s boundary.
Locals and forest department officials told HT that there has been no official response despite several representations they made to the local geology and mining department under the Gir-Somnath district collectorate. A similar representation was made by the office of district forest officer as well.
“Through GPS, which was followed by ground surveys, the department has recently found that stone crushing and mining activities are going on at as many as 30 sites in Jamwada range in the western part of the Gir sanctuary that shares border with Kodinar taluka,” said O K Dodiya, Jamwada range forest officer.
Between February and July, the forest department wrote to the geology and mining department thrice requesting a crackdown on these sites. But, so far, little action has been taken. “Just a crusher was seized during a single raid conducted so far. Most of the illegal mining and stone-crushing sites are still operational,” Dodiya said.
Gir-Somnath collector Ajay Kumar told HT, “No activity inside the eco-sensitive zone is allowed. After the matter was brought to my knowledge, we instructed the geology and mining department to take the action.”
Geologist K N Mevania said he was aware of illegal mining activities but shortage of staff has delayed their crackdown. “There are just two staff members at my disposal. We have begun the process and cleared a mining site at Ghantwad village. But unavailability of manpower is a major deterrent to enforcing law.”
Mevania is based in Porbandar but has additional charge of Junagadh and Gir-Somnath districts. Though a major part of the Gir wildlife sanctuary is spread over these two districts, none of them has a dedicated geologist.
“If we had a dedicated field staff, the department would have monitored on a regular basis to prevent establishment of such illegal mines,” he added.
Among the mines in question, two are allegedly owned by Ghandhyam and Raju Solanki who are nephews of former MP Dinu Solanki, considered a close confidante of BJP president Amit Shah.
Solanki and his nephews are accused in the murder case of RTI activist Amit Jethva. Thirty-two-year-old Jethva was shot dead in 2010 days after he filed a PIL in the Gujarat high court seeking action against Solanki and his family for carrying out illegal mining in the vicinity of the Gir sanctuary.
In letters dated February 21, June 29 and July 1 (copies of which are with HT) written to the district collector, the Jamwada range forest office has listed two survey numbers highlighting alleged illegal mining activities being carried out by the Solanki brothers. In all, 30 such sites belonging to different owners have been listed.
Most of these mines reportedly provide raw materials to cement factories located in nearby areas.
“The Jamwada range covering some 10 villages of Gir-Somnath and Kodinar is home to more than 25 lions that roam around in the periphery as well as in the eco-sensitive zone. The presence of humans and mining not only increases the chance of man-animal conflicts but also poses a grave danger to the ecosystem,” said Balu Socha of Paryavaran Sanrakshan Samiti, a group of local environment activists that forced the forest department carry out surveys to unearth illegal mines.
“In response to a PIL filed by Jethva in 2008, the Gujarat high court had ordered local administration to form a committee headed by the district collector for regular monitoring of the eco-sensitive zone, which has not been done. As a result, mining activities are thriving there,” added Socha.