Wildlife conservationists have expressed concern over the clearing of almost 44 hectares of forest land, which is home to around 45 Asiatic lions, to construct Bhakt Kavi Narsinh Mehta University (BKNMU) at Junagarh in Odisha's Kalahandi district.
The university has also issued a tender notice for Rs 7.23 lakh to invite bids to cut down forest on the outer areas of Girnar Wildlife Sanctuary, the abode of close to 45 Asiatic lions. Khadia village is located in the sanctuary's eco-sensitive zone (ESZ), which has restrictions on construction activities.
"Farm houses, hotels, resorts and such other activities that might lead to unregulated tourism shall be strictly controlled and monitored in villages Patla, Vishal Hadmatiya, Mendpara, Dudhala, Malida, Pasvala, Kariya, Samatpara, Patwad, Chhodwadi, Nava Naghaniya, Mandlikpur, Bandhala, Bhalgam, Mandanpara, Toraniya and Khadia," the ESZ notification says, according to a Times of India report.
The land on which BKNMU has been proposed to be constructed was given to the forest department to carry out plantation from 2007 to 2013 to improve biodiversity in the sanctuary.
"Area earmarked for varsity is a lions' corridor critical for movement of wild animals. Moreover, it falls under the ESZ. We had lodged our protests when government had first announced the plan. The university can be set up anywhere, but not at cost of our natural heritage,'' wildlife conservationist Pranav Vaghashiya told the daily.
The Deputy Conservator of Forests in Junagarh, R Senthil Kumaran, told TOI that the area where the university is proposed is a lions' corridor as it is close to the sanctuary. "If buildings are constructed, it will adversely affect movement of wildlife and the lions will be forced to venture into human habitats. This will increase chances of human-wildlife conflict," he added.
BKNMU's registrar Dr FA Sheikh says that all the necessary permissions to construct the university have been taken from the forest department.
"Some permissions are under process and we will go ahead with the due process," Sheikh told TOI.
"It is because of forest department's seven years of perseverance that the area around Khadia village has flourished with rich biodiversity and became prime area for wildlife habitat. We have seen lions preying and moving on the land allotted to BKNMU," a forest department officer said.
According to the ESZ norms, all activities in the ESZ of the sanctuary shall be governed by provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act, the Forest Conservation Act and Environment Protection Act.