Gujarat High Court Raises Concerns Over Delay in Lion Safety Measures by Railways and Forest Department

In the matter of Suo Motu PIL concerning Asiatic Lion fatalities, Gujarat High Court directs Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife Division, Junagadh & DRM, Western Railway, Bhavnagar Division to provide affidavits on investigation into lion deaths on railway tracks by April 23.

The Gujarat High Court has expressed dismay over the delayed response from the Railways and the state forest department in implementing preventive measures after two lions were tragically killed by trains in the state.

Chief Justice Sunita Agarwal highlighted that the "right to life includes the right to have a clean environment, which includes protection of the wildlife," citing a Supreme Court order. The court criticized the authorities' lack of immediate action following the lion fatalities in Gir forest in January, emphasizing that the High Court should not be viewed as a mere watchdog requiring intervention to spur action.

The court, hearing a suo motu Public Interest Litigation (PIL) concerning the deaths of Asiatic lions due to unnatural causes, underlined Gujarat's unique responsibility as the sole habitat for these endangered species.

In response, the Indian Railways presented a revised standard operating procedure (SOP) for trains operating within the Gir forest area, including reducing the speed limit to 30 kmph during daylight hours and halting nighttime train movement in the vicinity. However, the court noted that such measures were only adopted months after the tragic incidents and under court pressure.

Similarly, the forest department outlined preventive steps taken but failed to address inquiries into the lion fatalities, prompting the court's dissatisfaction. "You always need some interference from the court...We are not daroga ji. Please don't make us daroga," the court remarked, expressing its frustration with the need for court intervention to prompt action.

The court directed the Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife Division, Junagadh, and Divisional Railway Manager (DRM), Western Railway, Bhavnagar Division, to provide affidavits detailing their investigation into the lion deaths on railway tracks. This aspect will be revisited in a subsequent hearing scheduled for April 23.

Additionally, the court sought clarification on the decision to convert a section of railway tracks passing through the lion corridor from meter gauge to broad gauge and its potential impact on the lions.