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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Illegal safari in core area of tiger reserve

TNN | Jan 17, 2012, 04.03AM IST RAJABHATKHAWA (JALPAIGURI): Has the ban on tourism in Buxa Tiger Reserve (BTR) dampened your spirit? Bother not. If you are ready to compromise with your conscience, all you have to do is to contact the right network that flouts all norms to conduct 'safari' in the core area of the reserve. A private tour operator based in Rajabhatkhawa - the entry point to the core area - conducts tours to the interior of the forest. One just needs to get an accommodation in the WBFDC tourist lodge (that also permits one to go for a safari in the buffer zone) and book a car for Rs 2,000. Add to it Rs 20 per person - for the "outsider's gate pass" to reach the villages inside BTR and you will be taken into the core area by the "guide". A K Raha, principal chief conservator of forests and the head of forest force in the state, said permission is granted only to those who board at WBFDC lodge, but they are not allowed to the 'core' area. This just proves that the attempt of the forest department to conserve tiger is half-hearted and there are major loopholes, said an activist. The main objective of conservation is being diluted in the name of eco-tourism since more than 1,500 tourists go for safari in BTR each year. The number stood at close to 30,000 before the "inconsistent" ban that came into effect on September 16, 2010. Also, it has been made mandatory that one forest guard should accompany each car. But a reality check proves all these guidelines have been shoved to the back burner in favour of a good "business". Your safari will start from the BTR entry point, the car will take you a few kilometers along the Buxa Feeder Road. Then it will turn left, take a broken, muddy path and enter the dense forest. If you are lucky, you could spot leopard, gaur, cheetal or wild boar. You can also expect a herd of elephants blocking your way. But if you are a keen observer, then you are sure to spot some exotic birds and rare orchids. At places, the forest is so dense that darkness will leave you blinded. So remain assured even if you can't spot any animal, that eerie feeling in the wild will send shiver down your spine. The safari will take you to the Dima river, where the driver will allow you to get off the car and take a "close look" at the forest. The vast stretch with mountains in the backdrop will catch your imagination. But this halt is not the end of your tour. "When the tourists insist, I take them to core areas like 23 Mile Road, Garam watch tower, Narathali Lake, Chuniajhora and also to interior parts of Jainti," the tour operator said. And if you want to go to 26 mile and enjoy a night safari, even that is possible if you have a little 'contact' in the forest department. However, Raha claimed night safari has been banned completely in BTR. According to a source in the government who knows the ins & outs of BTR, the operator works in connivance with the forest department officials. "How can one conduct such tours month after month without the knowledge of the forest officials?" he wondered. When asked a forest guard posted at the check-post of BTR, he washed off his hands saying, "This operator claims to have permission from the senior officials. We come from outside for work. These are all local people. They threat us with consequences if we try to tackle them by force." Forest minister Hiten Barman sounded concerned when informed about the racket. "I will look into the matter immediately and if any forest official found violating the law, strong action will be taken."