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Trouble’s afoot in the park
- Protests force forest dept to shelve dawn entry fee at Banabitan

It was a place where residents of Salt Lake found peace and tranquility. The narrow paths of Banabitan in the township, flanked by large trees and blooming buds, gave fresh-air fiends enough reason to feel fit and healthy. But a recent circular may throw a spanner in the happiness of the 250-plus morning-walkers. The circular by the state forest department has asked the park’s users to pay Rs 5 to enter the premises between 5 am and 8 am.

Protest from locals, however, have forced the authorities to retreat from their stand, albeit temporarily. The plan to introduce tickets for morning-walkers at Banabitan was to be implemented from December 1 but following the protest, officials have issued a notice on the decision being deferred.

“We want the authorities to withdraw this decision permanently,” said Anupam Dutta, Trinamul Congress councillor and leader of the Opposition in the Bidhannagar Municipality, on Monday. The Trinamul even held a rally in front of Banabitan on Monday to protest the decision. “In 1992, while inaugurating Banabitan, then chief minister Jyoti Basu had promised that residents could use the park for free. It seems the authorities have forgotten that promise,” Dutta said.

The park does charge an entrance fee after 8 am. The rates have increased from Rs 5 to Rs 10 with effect from December 1. “We are considering the free-entry proposal following a request from Salt Lake residents,” said Shyamaljyoti Burman, additional principal chief conservator of forest. “The forest directorate is trying to work out a solution to the issue. An entry fee for morning-walkers is, however, likely to be implemented from January 2003,” he added.

A petition signed by the residents, which include some VIPs too, was sent to the forest directorate officials on Monday. Burman said the directorate was exploring new avenues to earn non-tax revenue, following the state government’s decision to take austerity measures in all departments. “We are also planning to introduce an entry fee in the urban and semi-urban parks in the area. An increase in accommodation fee for forest bungalows has also been proposed,” Burman added.

Salt Lake residents, however, refuse to buy the idea. Sudhir De, a resident and former general secretary of Bidhannagar (Salt Lake) Welfare Association, feels the fee introduction is unfair. Mohammad Rafiq, another resident, said: “Banabitan is not an amusement park. We go there to stay fit.” He said the residents would meet the officials and even former chief minister Jyoti Basu, if the forest department refuses to see reason.

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