Ahmedabad: Ahead of every Lok Sabha election, a polling booth set up by the Election Commission for a lone voter at Banej inside the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary — the last abode of Asiatic Lions — becomes global news.
The voting booth is set up deep in the heart of the forests, about 26 kilometers inside Gir for Mahnat Bharatdas, a temple priest. An entire polling team of six people travel to Banej to set up the booth, as according to the EC, no citizen should ordinarily have to travel more than two kilometers to cast their vote.
The importance of a single vote notwithstanding, conservationists, however, are of the opinion that alternate arrangements for the lone voter must be made in order to ensure that minimal disturbance is caused to the habitat of lions.
“Gir Sanctuary is passing through its worst phase in decades due to various reasons including, thousands of vehicles passing through various roads inside the Sanctuary that is harming the habitat. Better sense should prevail and an alternate arrangement should be made,’’ said Revtubha Raijada, an ex-member of state wildlife advisory board.
Bhushan Pandya, a renowned wildlife photographer and a member of the Gujarat state wildlife, suggested that it would be advisable to arrange for pick-up and drop facilities for the voter to the nearest polling booth “instead of setting up an entire booth in the core of the forest”.
According to forest officials, the nearest polling booths are located at Biliyad nesh and Sapnesh, both situated inside Gir Sanctuary and located around 16 and 24 km away from Banej.
Similar demands for special voting arrangements have been raised by activists for the 5000 salt pan workers, who live inside the Little Rann of Kutch, a wildlife sanctuary for eight months every year.
“We had demanded to set up polling booths for salt pan workers inside Little Rann of Kutch but EC had refused it citing that the sanctuary inhibits the Wild Ass. So, now, ECI has agreed to provide transportation facilities for salt plan workers to bring them to polling booths in nearby villages,’’ Pankti Jog, regional coordinator of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) told News18.
The demands for protecting wildlife habitat of lions assumes significance as according to the government data provided in the state assembly, over 200 lions died inside and outside Gir wildlife Sanctuary in the last two years.