Located in the drought prone region of Gujarat in Junagadh, Girnar forests was home to the Asiatic lion till 1963. However, due to illegal hacking and felling, the forest degenerated and the wildlife lost their habitat. With time, bootleggers started using the forest for production of illicit liquor.
With the initiative of IFS officer Mr Bharat Lal, who was posted there in July 1992, efforts were made and the forest was presented to people as a source of water for Junagadh city and adjoining 39 villages. In addition to protection, eco-restoration drive was also taken up at the area. Several laws came into enforcement and over 1,100 illegal wood cutters, whose livelihood was dependent on the forest, were trained and offered alternate opportunities.
The state forest department and nature lovers joined hands to start a movement to restore the forest and its wildlife. Massive soil and moisture conservation work was taken up. To boost the morale of staff, housing and other facilities were created near forest areas, and communication network also set up.
Mining in the area was put to a standstill and open mines were converted to water bodies with the principles of watershed management. More than 140 odd check dams were constructed to create perennial water sources. Rampant encroachment that had happened because of it being adjacent to a city, was removed.
In 1993, herbivore animals especially spotted deer and Sambhar started appearing at the forest. The rare rusty spotted cat also started to be seen. During the monsoon of 1993, the Asiatic lions also returned to the forest as migration of lions started to take place due to the forest sharing a radial distance of only about 40 kilometres from the Gir National Park.
In the year 1995, a Lion census was conducted in the forest to record the population of the animal. At times, lions could be seen sitting on roads leading to the forest.
Later, the Gujarat government headed by the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi, declared it a sanctuary. Today, more than 50 Asiatic Lions are inhabitant in the area.
(Story narrated by Bharat Lal to News18 India Editor Input, Amitabh Sinha. Bharat lal is heading ambitious project of Har Ghar Nal under Jal Jeevan mission.)