THE Gujarat government has robbed Gir sanctuary of its tranquillity this monsoon, sparking off a furore amongst environmentalists. It has opened up a 10-km long road running through the sanctuary to facilitate pilgrimage to the Patla Mahadev temple, which is located inside the protected area. The road usually remains closed during the monsoons for forest to regenerate.
Conservationists say that the government's decision would adversely affect the ecosystem of the sanctuary, which houses the world's largest population of Asiatic lions. "Such decisions negate the very purpose of declaring an area as a sanctuary,' says Manish Vaidya of the Ahmedabad Nature Lovers Association. Junagadh-based Sky Forest Youth Club is also opposed to the government's move.
Members of the club say that since monsoon months are important for forest regeneration, the unrestricted entry of human beings and vehicles would harm the ecosystem. Along with this, human movements would also hamper the breeding of animals. The move, it is feared, will set a bad precedent. "There are 24 temples in Gir sanctuary and some of them are located deep inside the national park. Demands to open up roads for access to many of them have already been voiced. The forest department would be in a bind if others press their case,' points out Revtubha Raijada of the club. If the department does allow such access, thousands of pilgrims would end up polluting the area throughout the year, not giving the forest time to regenerate.
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