Madhya Pradesh on Monday pitched in with a plea in the Supreme Court for translocation of Asiatic lions from Gujarat to its Kuno Palpur sanctuary, insisting it has the wherewithal to ensure a harmonious environment for the threatened species.

State counsel Vibha Datta Makhija told a special Forest Bench of Justices K. S. Radhakrishnan and C. K. Prasad that Madhya Pradesh has “all the necessary infrastructure, expertise and environment for translocating the lions” to its own sanctuary.

She disputed Gujarat's argument that Madhya Pradesh would not be a safe place for the lions as the State had failed to preserve its own tiger population in the Panna reserve forest.

Ms. Makhija told the Bench that contrary to Gujarat's claim that there was no tiger population left in Madhya Pradesh, the Panna reserve could boast of 16 tigers thanks to sustained efforts made by the State to preserve it.

She also repudiated Gujarat's argument that shifting lions to Madhya Pradesh was not ideal as they cannot co-exist with cheetahs and tigers. She placed before the Court purported findings of experts to establish that these wild animals could co-exist.

At the last hearing, Gujarat opposed any effort by the Centre to translocate Asiatic lions from its Gir sanctuary to Kuno Palpur wildlife sanctuary of Madhya Pradesh.

Appearing before the Bench, senior counsel Shyam Divan had said the State had sufficient infrastructure and will to conserve the lions' population and it was not advisable to translocate them and pointed out that tigers have become extinct in Panna reserve.

The State said that efforts should be made for translocation of the extinct cheetah from South Africa to Kuno Palpur and only after sufficient time efforts should be made to add lions gradually to that sanctuary. Otherwise “lions will not allow the cheetahs to survive in the sanctuary,” Mr. Divan said.

Further, he said, both the animals being predators it would be difficult for them to find sufficient prey in the sanctuary immediately.

The Gujarat Government is fighting a legal battle in the Supreme Court against translocation of lions in the wake of a PIL filed by an environment group seeking their translocation to Madhya Pradesh.

Assailing the assumption that lions were becoming extinct in Gujarat, counsel quoting statistics from the Wildlife Institute of India claimed that the population of tigers in Panna forest reserve of Madhya Pradesh had shown a steady decline as there was no single tiger there by 2009 as against 25 in 2002. It is on account of “systemic failure” involving the forest and bureaucratic officials that the tiger population had come down in M.P., counsel had said.

Quoting a number of earlier apex court rulings, the State argued that issues relating to wildlife and translocation should be left to the discretion of experts and courts should not interfere in such matters. - PTI