New Delhi: Narendra Modi-led BJP government is reportedly considering a proposal to make lion, in place of tiger, the national animal of the country.
Tiger has enjoyed the coveted status of national animal since 1972. The idea has not gone down well with the wildlife activists who have expressed concerns that the move would dilute the campaign to save tigers.
Rajya Sabha MP from Jharkhand Parimal Nathwani, an industrialist, sent the proposal to environment ministry which forwarded it to the National Board for Wild Life (NBWL). NBWL functions under environment ministry and according to reports, it is packed by members from Gujarat.
It is worth noting that tigers are found across 17 states in India while lion is found only in the Gir forest of Gujarat.
A standing committee of the board, chaired by environment minister Prakash Javadekar, discussed the issue in March. "The committee requested the ministry to consider wider consultations on the matter," Raman Sukumar, a member of NBWL, told Times of India.
NBWL member H S Singh told the newspaper that several issues have to be taken into account before considering the proposal. "Tigers are found across 17 states in India, whereas lion is found in only one," said Singh.
Nathwani had made the same proposal in 2012, but the then forest minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, said in Rajya Sabha that it was not even under consideration. In December last year, he again put a question in Parliament (No 2861) whether there was a proposal to make lion the national animal. In response, Prakash Javadekar replied that there was no such proposal. However, the issue was discussed at a committee meeting chaired by Javadekar, on March 14, 2015, where it was listed as agenda item No. 4.
In a recent countrywide assessment, it was found that India is home to more than 2,200 tigers, whereas the Asiatic lion population, estimated at 411, is confined to Gujarat's Gir.
In a 1972 meeting of the Indian Board for Wildlife (now NBWL), tiger was adopted as the national animal in view of its "worldwide importance, existence in the entire country and the need for its protection".
Wildlife activists as well as former members of NBWL have hit out at the government for considering the proposal. They suggest that the Asia lion is only found in Gir whereas tiger is found all over across the country.
The activists said that the move could pave the way for clearance of industrial projects near tiger sanctuaries. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ambitious industrial campaign ‘Make in India' features lion on its logo.