The sole objective of the SC judgment was to protect the endangered Gir Lions of Gujarat, concluded the court after detailed discussions with eminent wildlife biologists of India, apart from meticulously evaluating the scientific studies of the Wildlife Institute of India, said Justice KS Radhakrishnan.

But it seems that the judgment was scuttled without caring for the lions. Those who scuttled it should be brought before law for contempt of court proceedings as well as subjected to prosecution, he said in an interview to Mathrubhumi Online.

The judgment was delivered by a division bench of the court on April 15, 2013.

At least two decades back Dehradun’s Wildlife institute has been carrying detailed scientific studies to protect the lions. Asiatic lions are now living only in Gir.

The institute had felt that the Gir lions need a second home, because in case an epidemic spreads, the entire lion community would be wiped out. Such a frightening and unusual incident happened in 1994 in Tanzania when thousands of lions died as a result of viral infection. 

If any such thing occurs in Gir, it would cause irrecoverable havoc. So in order to save the lions it was thought that a second home be provided.

After studies, the wildlife institute came to the conclusion that Kuno forest in MP is an ideal location with the same habitat like Gir with similar terrain, grasslands, water availability and enough prey. 

The union forest ministry had approved the same while we considered a petition to translocate a few lions to Kuno and gradually implement the union ministry’s project so that a part of them can be shifted and protected. The Court had detailed discussions with wild life biologists who were present in the court.

We bestowed our anxious considerations to protect a species but the judgment was scuttled, Justice KS Radhakrishnan said.

gir
A lion in Gir Forest. Photo: Mathrubhumi Archives

But from the very beginning, the Gujarat Government was objecting to the second home in Kuno. The Government said the lions were well protected but che Court on the basis of scientific studies approved the project as fully supported by the union Government.

The Union Government was directed to implement the judgment within six months from the date of pronouncing the order. A committee was formed by the union government to implement it. At first, at least 10 lions were to be taken to Kuno and gradually in a time bound project more lions would be shifted. But nothing happened, the committee was silenced.

In 2015, the then Forest Minister Prakash Javadekar told the Parliament that the implementation will take some more time though the Court had fixed six months. That sounded the death knell of the committee.

Justice Radhakrishnan opined that the union government should find out who were all responsible to scuttle the judgment. They have to be prosecuted for violating the judgment of the court which was wholly aimed to protect an endangered species called Gir Lions.

Now the scenario is alarming. 23 lions are dead due to viral infection. But unofficial toll rate were put at 60. Though the Gujarat forest department said that death was due to infightings among the lions, the Virology Institute of Pune has said that viral infection was the cause of death.

lion
Lions in Gir forest. Photo: UNI/File

It has come out through press reports that Gujarat forest department has not taken due care and caution to protect the lions.

The judgment was delivered imbibing the spirit of the Wildlife Protection Act, Biological Diversity Act and numerous proceedings taken by the Union Ministry of Forests to protect the endangered species. But it was given scant respect, observed Justice Radhakrishnan.

Now a bench of the SC headed by Justice Madan Lokur is aware of the serious situation of non-implementing a well-considered judgment of 2013.

There are around 520 lions now in Gir.