The bitter divide in the wildlife activist fraternity showed up at the second meeting of the National Board for Wildlife on Monday with the Gujarat lobby staunchly opposing any move to shift Gir lions to Madhya Pradesh. At the end of the stormy session, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set the ball rolling for a compromise, asking environment minister A. Raja to discuss the move with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.
The decision was met with protests from a few members.
The proposal to shift the lions to Kuno Palpur national park in Madhya Pradesh has been dangling for a decade now. The ministry of environment and forest has spent crores to develop a habitat for the lions in Kuno. The Gujarat government has opposed the move, arguing that MP was not the right choice.
At Monday’s meeting, former chief wildlife warden of Gujarat GK Patel even claimed that the relocation would be disastrous as tigers would end up killing lions. Wildlife activists like Valmik Thapar countered that lions need to be relocated to preserve them against disease and natural calamity. To this, Patel said the government was already preparing a relocation site in Saurashtra.
Tiger conservation was also a hotly contested issue. The director of Project Tiger, Dr Rajesh Gopal, minced no words in his presentation on the action taken on the recommendations of Tiger Task Force report and status of tiger conservation in the country.
Several members accused the ministry of not doing much to save tigers. “This is the worst crisis in wildlife in the past 30 years. Everything is directionless,” Thapar reportedly told the PM.
A few members objected to the ministry’s proposal to have a statutory body, Tiger Conservation Authority. Instead, S C Sharma, former Additional Director-General Forest sought a Wildlife Conservation Authority for all species. The government, by setting up more bodies, is building empires in the ministry, he said.
Despite the bickering, crucial decisions were taken. The board has decided to give Army officers the powers to check poaching and illegal trade in wildlife. The ministry will also carry out a survey of peacocks in the country and seek a ban on the trade of peacock feathers. The board also decided to take steps for better conservation of red jungle fowl. The PM has asked the ministry to submit a detail plan on bifurcation of the ministry into two departments — wildlife and forest, and environment and pollution.