Swap your lions for some tigers. That’s the offer that Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister for Environment and Forests, is making to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The Gir sanctuary in Gujarat is the last surviving home of the Asiatic lion — a source of pride for the State, but also a source of worry for many conservationists who feel that the lions’ habitat must be expanded.
The Centre has suggested that a group of lions be translocated to the Kuno forest reserve in Madhya Pradesh, a proposal that has been met with determined resistance from Gujarat. Now, Mr. Ramesh is hoping that the offer to bring tigers back to the Dangs forest of Gujarat, where they became extinct 25 years ago, will convince the State to offer some of its lions in return.
“If you look at the map of India, every major State has a tiger reserve except Gujarat,” Mr. Ramesh said on Tuesday. “I have written to the Gujarat Chief Minister and suggested that the National Tiger Conservation Authority will work to reintroduce tigers in Gujarat. I hope that will create the incentive for him to part with his lions,” he added.
Despite his assertion that the lions of Gujarat “continue to be a big headache for us,” Mr. Ramesh praised the Gujarat model of wildlife management. “In which other State do you have community protection for wildlife protection as you do in Gujarat?” he said. The Minister was speaking at an event to release a “Handbook on Wildlife Law Enforcement in India.”
The government plans to strengthen the penalties for poaching wildlife. By April, the Environment Ministry will introduce amendments to the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 in Parliament, making punishments exceedingly heavy, Mr. Ramesh said. “The punishments in the current act are so anaemic that you can do whatever you want…There is no reason why the wildlife offender should not be treated as harshly as the foreign exchange offender,” he said.
The amendments are also aimed at making it easier for forest researchers and biologists to conduct research in reserve areas without being “subject to the whims and fancies of individual forest officers,” he said. Mr. Ramesh warned that there was a concerted effort to reduce the populations of tigers and leopards at Corbett National Park so that the real estate mafia can take over. He added that he had rejected the Adani Group’s proposal to mine coal near the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve. “That is a closed chapter,” Mr. Ramesh said.
State against proposal to translocate lions to Kuno forest reserve in Madhya Pradesh Every major State in the country has a tiger reserve except for Gujarat: Jairam Ramesh