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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Stop picnics, start eco-tourism in Sundarbans: Bengal forest dept

Subhro Niyogi, TNN | Jun 19, 2012, 01.05PM IST KOLKATA: Taking a leaf out of the mandatory in-flight instructions that stewards and stewardesses deliver prior to each flight, informing passengers how to fasten the seat belt and what to do in an exigency, the state forest department wants all tourist agencies in the Sunderbans, including boat owners, to spell out the dos and don'ts to tourists before they embark on the tour. The proposal is part of the first serious initiative to transform the tourist scene in the Sunderbans that is currently nothing more than picnic tourism. A majority of the 3 lakh visitors who go to the Sunderbans do so to have fun without bothering about the ecology. During the day, they feast on board, litter the creeks and rivers with thermocol plates and plastic bottles and dancing to loud music at night while the boat is anchored mid-river. ""We want to end irresponsible tourism and promote eco-tourism in the Sunderbans. To do so, we need the cooperation of all stakeholders. This is a clarion call for all-NGOs; tour operators; boat and lodge owners-to partner with the forest department and create awareness on the need to preserve the region's ecology while conducting tourism activities,"" Sunderban Biosphere Reserve director Pradeep Vyas told a stakeholders' meeting in the city on Monday. Though the draft of what guides and helpers on boats will tell tourists before the trip is yet to be worked out, it will broadly be along these lines: ""Dear guests, welcome on board. Fasten your seatbelts for a trip to the Sunderbans, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During this journey through the Sunderbans' rich biodiversity that is home to the world's largest tiger reserve, one must not disturb the fragile ecosystem. Plastic carry bags are strictly prohibited. Those who have plastic bags must deposit them and take jute bags in return. Do not throw plastic bottles, thermocol plates or any litter into the water. And please maintain silence, speaking only in whispers so that everyone can enjoy the sounds of the forest. Playing loud music is strictly prohibited. Here's wishing you a very pleasant experience."" Suggesting a three-pronged effort to curb pollution in the Sunderbans, Vyas said the forest department would form strategic partnerships for education and awareness of tourists and then undertake enforcement of existing laws to wipe out the menace. The department has also suggested a strict ban on plastic glasses, thermocol plates and polybags into the region. ""NGOs can distribute jute bags to boat and launch operators. If any tourist has a plastic bag, it can be confiscated and a jute bag handed out at a price or for free. Boat operators can also use melamine plates, glasses and spoons that can be washed and reused. Also, NGOs can network to check entry and exit of packaged water bottles,"" Vyas said. Incidentally, the plastic ban has been in force for over a decade but has not had much effect till now due to lack of sustained movement. However, following complaints from tourists and a section of tour operators of indiscriminate littering, the forest department has woken up to the situation and is now seeking the help of stakeholders to reign in the problem. ""We don't want to start with fines. But if the situation does not improve soon, we will have to take punitive action. Responsibility will be fixed on tour and boat operators to ensure that they do not allow littering and use of loudspeakers. NGOs will be encouraged to carry out periodic clean up drives along the river banks. Unless we adopt these practices, the Sunderbans will be over-run by waste plastic and thermocol,"" Vyas added.

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