Narayan Sarovar & Wildlife Sanctuary
Narayan Sarovar Sanctuary also popularly known as Narayan Sarovar Wildlife Sanctuary or Narayan Sarovar Chinkara Sanctuary notified as such in April 1981 and subsequently denotified in 1995 with reduced area, is a unique eco-system near Narayan Sarovar in the Lakhpat taluka of Kutch district in the state of Gujarat, India. The desert forest in this sanctuary is said to be the only one of its kind in India. Located in the arid zone, a part of it is a seasonal wetland. It has 15 threatened wildlife species and has desert vegetation comprising thorn and scrub forests. Its biodiversity has some rare animals and birds, and rare flowering plants. Wildlife Institute of India (WII) has identified it as one of the last remaining habitats of the cheetah in India and a possible reintroduction site for the species. The most sighted animal here is the chinkara (population estimated in the range of 1200–1500), which is currently the flagship species of the sanctuary.
The sanctuary was first notified in 1981 covering an area of 765.79 square kilometres.
De-notification in favor of mining industry
In 1992, the Gujarat state government’s department of mining and geology pointed out that there were huge deposits of limestone, lignite (brown coal), bentonite and bauxite inside the protected area of the sanctuary and argued that the ban on mining in the sanctuary was holding back development of the local economy.
An order dated July 27, 1993 of the Gujarat State Government initially de-notified the Sanctuary, by annulling the earlier notification of 1981 under which Narayan Sarovar had been declared a wildlife sanctuary. It issued a decree which abolished the original sanctuary and established a new one, consisting of 16 disjointed patches. This de-notification had reduced the area of the sanctuary from765.79 square kilometres (295.67 sq mi) to disjointed ribbons of land totaling only 94.87 square kilometres (36.63 sq mi) in favor of commercial mining interests. The commercially biased court order reduced the area to a mere one-eighth of the original size, with a comment that the area was “substantially in excess of the requirements of a Sanctuary”. Following the de-notification, the Gujarat state government planned to grant a lease to a cement company for open-cast mining in 2,000 hectares of land inside the original erstwhile Sanctuary to allow the mining of limestone, lignite and bauxite and for other industrial additives as it seemed an ideal location for a cement factory. The country’s, or even Asia’s, largest cement manufacturing unit was planned to be built there. Open-cast limestone mining is known to be harmful to the environment resulting in the release of large clouds of dust. Environmentalists feared that in the arid region of Kachchh district, these dust clouds would have harmful effects on both vegetation and wildlife as the limestone dust would condense in the cool nights settling on the leaves proving disastrous for the forests in the vicinity.
Environmental activists challenge de-notification in court
Several environment groups in the country challenged the de-notification decision in the courts, claiming it to be illegal because it had not been approved by the Gujarat state legislative assembly. The de-notification was challenged in the High Court of Gujarat and the Supreme Court of India resulting in a legal battle between the Government of Gujarat and the ‘Environmental Activists’ along with inputs (adverse impacts on the sanctuary by limestone mining within its vicinity) provided by the Centre for Environment Education (CEE), Ahmedabad which had initially brought the whole issue of de-notification to public light through its media campaign. In March 1995 the Gujarat High Court quashed the government decree, restoring the original sanctuary. But the court refused to comment on the “desirability or otherwise of the reduction of the sanctuary area”.
Reduction in size of protected area to allow open-cast mining
In August 1995, the Gujarat state legislative assembly taking advantage of the court’s reluctance to support the sanctuary approved a reduction in the size of the sanctuary area from 765.79 square kilometres (295.67 sq mi) to 444.23 square kilometres (171.52 sq mi) thus stripping protection from more than 40 per cent of the original protected area of the sanctuary and maintained that there were around 1200 chinkaras and that the smaller area was more than adequate for them.
The new boundaries of the smaller sanctuary were carefully drawn to exclude the rich limestone and mineral-bearing areas. Environment groups contest that cement makers, eager for new sources of limestone, have been the main driving force behind the Gujarat state government’s actions. The industry department of the state has been receiving several applications to build cement factories in the de-notified area.
The Gujarat state assembly also stressed that Gujarat with its poor power supply cannot afford to ignore its brown coal deposits. The first lignite-fueled power generation station was built inside the sanctuary in 1991 and the second is now planned in Akri.
Some miners had moved inside the boundaries of the sanctuary even before the 1993 decree that had initially abolished it escalating the mining and quarrying. Local forest officials believe that chinkara population is declining in the sanctuary and that their numbers are dwindling because their habitat is being destroyed. Pollution from the power station and the heavy traffic through the protected area also disrupts wildlife. Mining has made the water table salty, driving local villagers out of the area.
How to get there
By Road: Dholavira is 250 km from Bhuj and is reached via Bhachau and Rapar. A bus leaves from Bhuj at 14:00 and arrives at Dholavira at 20:30. It leaves at 05:00 the next morning and returns to Bhuj by 11:30. It is also possible to rent a vehicle.
By Air: The nearest airport is Bhuj. Bear in mind that an on-site guest house allows the possibility of a more leisurely experience, rather than a day trip.