DAYS AFTER The Indian Express reported that Reliance Jio Infocomm (RJI) has requested wildlife clearance for the construction of 34 telecommunications towers inside Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary (GNPWLS), the the lions’ last resting place outside of Africa, Reliance director Parimal Nathwani said on Monday. his company decided “not to go any further with the proposal unless it is confirmed by the wildlife wing of the state forestry department.”

The company’s position comes after news of Jio’s plans sparked debate on social media and led to an online signature campaign against the proposal.

Nathwani, director (general affairs), Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), the parent company of RJIL, said there were a lot of misconceptions regarding Jio’s proposed deployment of telecom services in the outskirts of Gir and in the protected forest zone (PA).

In a statement posted on Twitter, Nathwani, who is also a sitting member of the Rajya Sabha, said that Jio presented the proposal to build 34 telecommunication towers in the Gir Sanctuary and one in the Wildlife Sanctuary of Girnar (GWLS) after being “requested” by the wildlife wing of the Gujarat forestry department in 2020. Subsequently, a technical feasibility study was carried out and a proposal was submitted to the forestry department of the concept “with minimal infrastructure and maximum coverage ”.

However, the company has “again entered into discussions with the Forestry Department to reassess its needs …” Nathwani said in its statement.

Shyamal Tikadar, Senior Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Custodian of Gujarat, confirmed Jio’s communication and told The Indian Express: “We received an email from the company today. hui (Monday) and its content is similar to what is in their statement. Tikadar is also an ex-officio member-secretary of the SBWL.

The director of RIL, who identifies as “an avid wildlife”, further said that Jio has decided to put the proposal on hold due to “certain elements circulating on social media that Jio plans to establish his infrastructure inside sanctuaries for commercial purposes ”.

Nathwani said, “… Jio would like to clarify that the said proposal was only made to meet the needs of the Forestry Department’s wildlife wing and the company has no commercial concerns and derives from it. no benefit … Jio further specifies that the company has started discussions again. with the Forestry Department to reassess its needs and decided; not to go any further with this proposal unless it is confirmed by the wildlife wing of the state forestry department. “

On January 5, The Indian Express reported that Jio approached the state forestry department to seek permission to build towers at Gir Sanctuary and Girnar Sanctuary near the town of Junagadh, which is also a habitat of Gir lions.

Jio’s proposals were discussed at a meeting of the State Wildlife Council (SBWL), the supreme statutory body that advises the government on issues related to wildlife and PAs, on December 22. The story of Indian Express sparked debate among environmentalists and an online signature campaign. was launched by addressing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister of Gujarat Bhupendra Patel, calling the move detrimental to Gir Sanctuary. Nathwani, from Gujarat, said the telecommunications giant would not push the proposal before appropriate government guidance.

“We, as a responsible company, are also concerned and sensitive to the preconditions of our environment and of the precious wildlife. So we decide to hold on until we get clear and appropriate direction / guidance from the wildlife wing of the Forestry Department in particular and the government as a whole, ”Nathwani added in his statement.

The SBWL had also discussed Jio’s proposals for setting up seven telecommunication towers at the Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Narmada District and two at Ratanmahal Sloth Bear Sanctuary. Forests, Environment and Climate Change Minister Kiritsinh Rana told the Indian Express earlier this month that the proposals were on hold with the chief minister who is ex officio chair of SBWL.
Rana could not be reached for comment on Monday.

In response to a questionnaire sent by The Indian Express, Nathwani said on January 3 that Jio had applied for permission to install towers and lay fiber optic cables (OFC) in some wildlife reserves in Gujarat as part of the Indian government’s Digital India initiative. , to ensure connectivity to the most remote villages.

“We propose to set up our telecommunications network following all the required procedures stipulated by the central / state governments and after obtaining the required authorizations,” he said.

On Monday, the director of RIL said that while Jio worked to realize the central government’s vision and mission towards the Digital India program and to establish connectivity in rural areas, he was also sensitive to the needs of wildlife conservation. .

“Jio is also sensitive and careful when it comes to environmental and wildlife conservation…. In addition, Jio has always tried to meet the infrastructure needs of various government agencies with innovative solutions. With such a state of mind, Jio was invited to network around and in the Sasan Gir Protected Area by the Wildlife Wing of the Gujarat Forestry Department in 2020 (sic), ”the statement said. Nathwani.

“The purpose behind the request was to find a technology-based solution for the management and protection of wildlife, and to provide seamless connectivity to the ground staff of the Wildlife Wing … to ensure proper CCTV surveillance, among others. ” he added.

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