Ramesh approves ropeway project in Gir sanctuary

New Delhi: Setting aside objections from green activists, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh on Monday granted "in-principle" approval for a ropeway project in Girnar wildlife sanctuary, famous for its lions.

The Girnar Ropeway project was hanging fire since September 1995 and was facing opposition from environmentalists who apprehended adverse impact on the habitat of endangered vultures. It was pending with the Environment Ministry for over a year.

The project would "minimise man-animal conflict" in the sanctuary and it would also provide a "convenient way of transporting" thousands of pilgrims daily to the holy spots on Mount Girnar, Ramesh said while giving in-principle nod to the ropeway that will connect Bhavnath Taleti and Ambaji temple in Junagarh district.

"It would also put an end to socially unacceptable modes of transportation (the dolis) that are being used presently," Ramesh, who visited the site on January 27, said but added that the clearance was subject to six specific conditions.

Dismissing concerns of environmentalists, Ramesh said, "I have seen for myself the strong reasons to build the ropeway.

"The Girnari Giddh (vulture) population that is going to be affected by the ropeway project is between 20 to 25 percent of the total population of long-billed vultures in Gujarat but less than 10 per cent of the population of vultures in the state," the Minister said.

The six conditions include minimum disturbance for long-billed vulture i e Girnari Giddh habitat, cafeteria for vultures, increase in height of two towers along the ropeway and cess on ticket turn-over revenue for conservation related activities.

The Ministry, in its conditions, has asked the Gujarat Government to submit a report within two months about its study to consider alternate alignment of the ropeway project, preferably along the Datter /Bhesan side with a view to ensure that it does not cut across the prime vulture habitat and minimises disturbance to the nesting, roosting and ranging sites of long-billed vultures and other wildlife species.

According to the conditions, a camera of high resolution will be placed on the ninth tower to monitor movement of vultures, a cafeteria for vultures will be constructed at an appropriate location and a technical monitoring group will be set up to advice on safety protocols and to monitor the implementation of the conditions.

It is only after the declaration of the Girnar Reserve Forest as the Grinar Wildlife Sanctuary in May 2008, that Central Government approval has been necessitated.

A population of 20-25 lions is now resident in the Girnar Wildlife Sanctuary which covers about 180 sq kms.