The Gujarat government will close all roads passing through the Gir national sanctuary — the only abode of Asiatic Lions — during nights.

The decision, according to Forest and Environment Department Principal Secretary S. K. Nanda, is to ensure the safety of the lions and other animals in the Gir forest in view of numerous cases of accidents and killing or injuring the animals by speeding vehicles.

1500-sq km area

Spread over a 1,500-square kilometre area, including about 900 square km of protected forest zone, the Gir has 411 Asiatic lions, about 300 of them inside the protected zone, as per the latest census, besides numerous other animals.

The animals move freely at night, frequently falling victim to the passing vehicles.

About 10 important roads pass through the Gir forest connecting Junagadh with Amreli, Sasan with Talala, Visavadar with Dhari and several other small and medium towns on the periphery of the sanctuary area. According to one estimate, about 600 vehicles pass through the Gir forest every night, many of them at high speed.

Besides endangering the safety of the animals, the speeding vehicles also cause environment and noise pollution, disrupting the peace of the animals.

Speed-breakers

Mr. Nanda said in addition to banning vehicular traffic through the forest in the nights, the government had also constructed speed-breakers at regular intervals to ensure that even during the day hours, the vehicles could not rush beyond 40 kilometre per hour speed.

He said steps would be taken to ensure that the entrance to all the roads passing through the Gir forest were closed at sunset to be opened only after sunrise the next day.

Exception in emergency

However, in case of emergencies, vehicles would be given special permission to pass through the sanctuary area at night, he said.

Similar attempts were made in the past also to restrict vehicular traffic through the forest areas in the nights but could not be implemented due to stiff opposition from the people in the villages living within the sanctuary area.

The trading community in the peripheral areas also opposed any such move because the distances between any two points increase by about 50 to over 100 kilometre if they had to skirt around the sanctuary zone for the transshipment of the goods.

But this time the government was “serious” and would not bow down to the local pressures, the Forest Department sources said.