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Season’s safari plea in forests
Car owners at Hiten door

Alipurduar, Nov. 24: Owners of vehicles that are used for safaris in Jaldapara, Mendabari and Chilapata have demanded that the service be allowed from December 1 as there are many bookings for winter and the forest rides are a big tourist draw.

The car safaris in Chilapata and Mendabari forests were stopped on November 1 and the Jaldapara safaris were suspended from November 18 after the owners failed failed to produce commercial permits for vehicles that have private vehicle licences.

The forests are in the Dooars.

The step was taken after a tourist from Calcutta died in a safari car accident in Chilapata on October 21. Prabir Majumdar, a retired engineer, died when the Gypsy carrying him was caught in a chain of collisions in the forest.

The owners of the vehicles had been asked to apply for commercial permits and produce the document by October 31. The rides in all three forests were stopped when none of the owners did so.

Yesterday, forest minister Hiten Barman met the vehicle owners at Chilapata and assured them that he would look into the matter and try to start the service next month.

Barman said: “Yesterday, the car owners met me and demanded that the safaris be resumed from December 1. I told them that I will talk to minister Madan Mitra tomorrow and then I will be able to say about the relaxation in the rate and how fast the permits can be given.”

The operators said they had spoken with the Jalpaiguri district magistrate last week, appealing that the amount required while applying for a commercial licence be reduced, and the owners be allowed to pay a token sum right now. The car owners, who have private licences, said they would submit the remaining sum by December.

For a commercial licence, a vehicle owner has to pay Rs 31,000 to the motor vehicles department as road tax and insurance.

Sources said district magistrate Pritha Sarkar had forwarded the plea to the department in Calcutta.

Twelve cars do safari rides in Chilapata and nine in Mendabari. Fourteen cars take tourists on safaris in Jaldapara, which is the biggest reserve forest area of the three.

Jaldapara is the home of the one-horned rhino, while in Mendabari and Chilapata safaris take tourists on trails of elephants, bison and deer. Leopards are also spotted sometimes in the forests.

A safari car and lodge owner from Chilapata, Shibji Shau, said: “A lot of bookings are there from December 1 in the Chilapata and Jaldapara lodges. We have started telling tourists that there is a possibility that the safaris would resume from December 1. The forest minister told us that he would talk to transport minister Madan Mitra tomorrow about reducing the fee. We will submit a minimum amount to the motor vehicles department office in Jalpaiguri now.”

The car owners have threatened to launch a movement if the safaris do not resume next month. “The forest minister told us that he would try to start the rides from December 1. But by that time, all the vehicles must get commercial licences. We have agreed to this. Tourists come to Chilapata and Mendabari only for the car safaris,” Shau said.

There are total 43 rooms in the five Chilapata lodges and the two lodges in Mendabari have eight rooms in all.

According to Shau, from December 1 to 18, the booking in both places is 70 per cent. From December 19 to mid-January next year all the rooms in the two forest lodges are booked. Generally, the processing time for a commercial licence is one month. “I will talk to the forest officials regarding resuming the safaris. It is true that tourists are not coming to these places (Chilapata and Mendabari) because of the halting of the car safaris,” said Barman.