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Monday, November 5, 2012

Plans afoot to tap Valmiki reserve eco-tourism potential

MONDAY, 05 NOVEMBER 2012 00:46 DHEERAJ KUMAR | PATNA As the Dhaulagiri snow peaks peep out from mountains of neighbouring Nepal and mighty Gandak river flows with a majestic silence, the Bihar Government has an ambitious plan under its sleeve to promote eco-tourism in Valmikinagar Tiger Reserve (VTR) in the State’s West Champaran district, through active participation of local population, comprising sizable number of Tharu tribals as well. Though eco-tourism has engaged minds of top policy-makers in the State since a long time, it finally took a concrete shape, when State Deputy Chief Minister, Sushil Kumar Modi launched eco-tourism in Valmikinagar Tiger Reserve amid high pitched optimism last Thursday. The launching ceremony was organised on the lawns of newly spruced up 12-room Valmiki Vihar, which can provide lodging facility to almost 24 tourists. The Government will send 20 local youth to Chitwan Tiger Project in Nepal for their training as guides. Keeping in mind the welfare of local people in its zeal to prop up eco-tourism in the region, the State Government will encourage local inhabitants to purchase open jeeps, so that they may enhance their income by renting out these vehicles to tourists, who are willing to go for jungle safari. People living in the vicinity of VTR would also be persuaded to earn money by providing their portion of houses to tourists by charging some money from them. In addition to Valmiki Vihar, accommodation facility will also be available at eight eco-huts and six forest rest houses. Tourists, visiting Valmikinagar for eco-tourism can also enjoy tenting facility and tree houses at Kotraha, Madahpur, Goberdhan and Manguraha. In addition to elephant safari and bullock cart rides, other attractions like short-trekking, full moon visit with patrolling party, bird watching and peep through watch towers will also be introduced in due course. Madanpur and Manguraha will be the entry points on the western and eastern part respectively, while the main eco-tourism destinations would be Valmikinagar, Madanpur, Ganauli, Manguraha and Goberdhana. Other proposals include an interpretation cum information centre for providing full details about eco-tourism facilities to tourists visiting VTR. An open-air theatre and a conference room cum audio-video hall will be constructed at Valmikinagar, while boating facility and adventure sports in the Gandak river, are also planned. But to top it all, a brand ambassador for VTR is also actively being considered and names of celebrities like Manoj Bajpai are already doing the rounds but a final decision has to be taken on it. Besides tigers, VTR has also a good population of leopards and wild dogs, Sambhars, wild boars, Cheetal and Neelgais. VTR is spread over 901 sq km with core area of 598 sq km and 20 per cent of the core area will be used for the purpose of eco-tourism. The Project Tiger Directorate under Ministry of Environment and Forests, which evaluates tiger reserves in the country, has assessed VTR of “satisfactory” level. Though, officially the number of tigers at VTR has been put at 8 in the last tiger census, the actual number might be much higher if daily reports are to be believed, created on the basis of camera trapping of big cats are considered, which estimate that VTR has around 15-17 tigers. The State Government has also made it clear that the land will not be acquired from villagers and they will not be replaced. On the contrary, those staying for three generations will be given ryoti land rights under Forest Rights Act. The Government will also provide cheap LPG connections to villagers living around the Tiger Project. Additionally, the Government will provide wood up to 25 cubic feet at cheaper rates to those building houses in the region. The Government will also make efforts to improve grass land area and prey base in the VTR to improve population of tigers in VTR. Vacant posts of forest guards will be filled up on a priority basis and they will also be properly armed.

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