Bustard Sanctuary in Kutch adds 32 sq km

AA pair of Great Indian Bustards near a field at Naliya grasslands in Kutch. Javed Raja

In a major boost for conservation efforts directed at the critically-endangered Great Indian Bustard, land measuring a total 32 sq km has been transferred to the state forest department in and around Kutch's Naliya grasslands through the "land bank" procedure and under provisions of the Forest Conservation Act.

The Kutch Bustard Sanctuary at Naliya currently spreads over just 2 sq km and efforts to enlarge it have been slow-going since much of the surrounding land is made up of revenue wasteland, grazing fields and private property (During a tour of the area earlier this year, The Indian Express witnessed large-scale conversion of these uninhabited lands near the sanctuary and at the grassland's periphery into agricultural fields.)

Even the chunk that has recently come under the forest department's jurisdiction has been done over several years in about a dozen instalments, according to a top official and documents reviewed by this journalist.

But this still makes up less than a third of the area identified as the bird's core habitat, which spreads over more than 90 sq km.

"These transferred areas will gradually be notified as protected areas. It's a matter of record that the GIBs in Naliya are found across a vast area outside the sanctuary and at least we now have a legal basis with which to preserve the land as GIB habitat," the official said, declining to be named due to ongoing negotiations with the revenue department for more land transfers.

The state-run GEER Foundation's 2007 survey puts the number of GIBs in Naliya, it's only habitat in Gujarat, at close to 50 over 996 sq km but concentrating in a core area of 97 sq km.

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