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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Spurt in tiger sighting draws tourists to Sunderbans

TNN | Oct 31, 2012, 03.18AM IST KOLKATA: Tiger sightings at Pirkhali have suddenly led to a rush of tourists to Sunderbans. The mangrove forest, which witnesses a surge in the number of visitors during the Pujas in October, is grappling with the additional load which it wasn't ready to handle. The forest department expects the number of tourists to be around 40,000 more than last year and is considering ways to tackle the crowding and the pollution that it has been leading to. Two successive tiger sightings at Pirkhali on Saptami and Ashthami led to a cheer among tourists, most of whom return disappointed from Sunderbans where spotting a big cat is a rare occurrence. On Monday, yet another tiger was sighted near Dobanki. "The word seems to have spread quickly for we have been getting loads of tourists ever since. Everybody is keen to visit Pirkhali, though there hasn't been any sighting there since October 22. On Lakhsmi puja, some tourists encountered another tiger. We have been trying to tell tourists that tiger sighting is a matter of chance and that they must enjoy the trip around the mangrove forest, rather than just expect to see a tiger," said Subrat Mukherji, field director of Sunderbans Tiger Reserve (STR). Sightings go up during the October-December, the post-monsoon period. Even though they are far less than other forests, this is the time to visit Sunderbans in case you are keen on sighting a big cat, according to experts. "The post-monsoon period is usually the best for tiger sighting. Even though not very frequent, it should continue till November-end," said Pranabesh Sanyal, former director of STR. But what has left the STR authorities worried is the sudden crowding and the pollution. Scores of boats and launches have been sailing into the rivers that criss-cross the islands. While the mangrove forest receives around 80,000 tourists from October to January, this time the figure could touch 1,30,000, said officials. The number of tourists visiting the Sunderbans is around 1,50,000 a year. With tourist movement being restricted to the Sajnekhali-Pakhirala-Satjelia area, the pollution load could affect the forests, officials fear. "Tourists spend most of their time either sailing or roaming the fringes of the forests. They tend to litter these areas with plastic plates and bags. We have deployed additional forest guides this year to advise tourists on the dos and don'ts. Also, we are working on developing the areas which are not frequently visited. Places like Boney Camp and Kalash have accommodation and transportation facilities. Even though they are outside the STR area, they have a fair concentration of tigers and sightings are not rare," explained Mukherji. Tour operators said the tourism zone needs to be expanded at once to check pollution and crowding. "The tourist season witnesses a sudden concentration of visitors in a small area where tourists are allowed. It exceeds the carrying capacity of the forest. Emission from the boats, plastics and noise pollution are major problems. This year, it has been even worse due to the rise in the number of tourists. It's time to divert tourists to Boney Camp and Kalas which are pristine and have good facilities," said Asit Biswas, a tour operator. Plastics and noise pollution were a major threat to Sunderbans, according to Joydip Kundu, member, state wildlife board. "The forest department should immediately frame rules for controlled tourism. Pollution needs to be checked, especially during the peak season," said state wildlife advisory board member Joydip Kundu.

'Give forester killed in tiger attack status of martyr'

TNN | Oct 31, 2012, 06.04AM IST JAIPUR: Stunned by the sudden death of assistant forester Gheesu Singh in a tiger attack on last Thursday, the Rajasthan Forest Subordinate Services Union has demanded status of martyr for all foresters who die on duty. The union has given a written memorandum to chief minister Ashok Gehlot and forest and tourism minister Bina Kak. Gheesu Singh was attacked by a tiger while he was on duty at the Ranthambore national park. The tiger, identified as T-24, pounced on him, caught him by the neck and dragged him away to a bush about 25 metres away. Reports suggest that Gheesu Singh was walking between two groups of labourers who had gone to the forest to repair a road. Singh died instantly. According to sources in the forest department, "The union has demanded the status of martyr on the lines of policemen who are granted the status when they die on duty. Our services are equally fraught with danger. We have to often go into perilous terrains to protect forests and wildlife. In such a situation we must also be given the status of martyr if any of us gets killed on duty." Gheesu Singh was a resident of Amrapura village on the Samod Ki Balaji road in Chomu. He is survived by three sons, an aging father and a wife. "I have been to his house and the family's condition is pathetic. Gheesu Singh was the only earning member in the family. His youngest son is paralyzed and terminally ill. His eldest son is pursuing graduation while the other is in class X. His father is 80 years old," said Rajpal Singh, member of state wildlife board. So far Gheesu Singh's family has been given Rs 20 lakh as a special measure by chief minister Ashok Gehlot and another Rs 4 lakh by forest department and the Ranthambore hotels association. Kak has also promised a government job for the next of kin of Gheesu Singh. In fact, the first voice for status of martyrdom was raised by DV Durrani of the Sariska Tiger Foundation. On the day of the attack Durrani demanded that the state call Gheesu Singh a martyr. "Gheesu Singh was a dedicated and a committed person. Moreover, he was on duty when the tiger attacked him. In such a situation policemen are given the status of a martyr so why should foresters not be treated similarly. More often than not they are exposed to similar or even more dangerous situations," he said. The demand for martyr's status for Gheesu Singh, the first forester to be killed in such a manner, has been gaining ground since the past week. "Even I will suggest to the state government as a member of the state wildlife board that in cases where an exemplary forester is killed on duty he should be given the status of a martyr and all such facilities that are given to a martyr should be granted to them as well," added Rajpal Singh.

MP will be known for its tourist destinations: Puar

Bagish K Jha, TNN | Oct 31, 2012, 04.36AM IST INDORE: Listing tourism as one of the key focus areas of state, tourism minister Tukojirao Puar said on Tuesday that Madhya Pradesh will no longer be known only as India's heartland of India and for its tiger reserves, but will be also known for its hill stations, archaeological wealth, scenic forests, water bodies and religious places. "To make it possible, the state has made due amendments in its tourism policy by giving industry status to the sector. Now government will give capital subsidy up to 25% of investment, encourage budget hotels at religious places, have fast track clearance for investment above Rs 10 crore and have a 24X7 supply of power," said Paur adding that ten special tourism zones have been declared in state. The steps by state governments got good response from investors. Nine MoUs worth Rs 1,192 crore were signed on Tuesday and process is underway to finalize proposals worth Rs 7,215 crore of 14 investors. "Once implemented, the MoUs will provide jobs to around 20,800 youths of the state," said MD of MPSTDC Raghvendra Singh adding that efforts are being made for air connectivity between all the districts of state. CEO and MD of Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), Amitabh Kant said that MP is unique destination because availability of so many tourist product in such close proximity. "Need to focus on infrastructure and skill development," said Kant. Subash Verma, president of Associations of Domestic Tour Operators of India (ADTOI) said that MP has very good religious places and tourism department should focus on conversance of religious tourist into leisure tourism. "Domestic tourist is base of tourism and they should be given some sort of incentive," said Verma. However, Subhash Goyal, chairman of STIC Travel Group of Companies said that policy is best, but state should focus on creating a brand. He stressed that one out of every nine will be created in tourism sector by 2020. "Tourism can provide local job and check migration," said Goyal. Secretary to chief minister of Maharashtra, Ashish Kumar Singh said that synergies between states are way to go forward. "India is major tourist generator today, with improving connectivity among tourist destinations across the state can divert Indian, who are going abroad to local destinations," he said.