Tourists in Chilapata after the car safaris resumed on Sunday. Picture by Anirban Choudhury
Alipurduar, Dec. 8: Car safaris in Jaldapara, Chilapata, Kodal Basti and Mendabari forests resumed today but foresters have issued a three-day deadline to owners of the vehicles to produce commercial numbers for the cars.
The foresters said the services would be stopped again if the commercial numbers were not produced in three days.
The safaris in Chilapata, Kodal Basti and Mendabari were suspended on November 1 and in Jaldapara, the rides were stopped on November 18 after vehicle owners failed to apply for commercial permits within a deadline issued by the forest department.
All 43 safari vehicles in the four forests have private permits.
Today, the safaris resumed after owners of 23 vehicles (12 from Jaldapara, four from Kodal Busti, two from Mendabari and five from Chilapata) produced provisional permits, which are valid for three months.
Rest of the owners said they would collect the permits from Jalpaiguri tomorrow.
For a commercial permit, one has to pay Rs 31,000 annually whereas for a private licence, the amount is Rs 3,000 a year.
The forest department asked the vehicle owners to apply for commercial permits after a tourist from Calcutta died during a car safari in Chilapata forest on October 21.
Recently, vehicle owners met forest minister Hiten Barman and Jalpaiguri district magistrate with an appeal to pay the quarterly road tax of Rs 3,850 for nine months as the forests are closed for three months during the monsoons.
They also requested the official to bring down the road tax amount.
“The provisional permits are valid for three months. The DM told us to deposit Rs 3,850 at the earliest. Tomorrow, we will deposit the amount and we are expecting the commercial number to reach us by Wednesday. We will request the foresters to increase the rates of the car safaris. We have faced a loss of at least Rs 15,000 each after the rides were suspended,” said Bimal Rava, the secretary of car owners’ association in Chilapata.
In Jaldapara forest, each car ride costs Rs 1,500. One vehicle takes six tourists at a time.
For Chilapata, Mendabari and Kodal Busti forests, a car ride costs Rs 1,750. The safaris are usually for around one-and-a-half-hour.
Ganesh Sha, a lodge owner in Chilapata, said: “In the past 37 days, more than 250 bookings have been cancelled in some of the forests and no new bookings have been made. I have faced a loss of Rs 1.50 lakh in the past one month.”
Rajendra Jakhar, divisional forest officer, Jaldapara wildlife, said: “Some vehicle owners produced the provisional permits and we have allowed the safaris for three days. If they fail to collect commercial numbers in three days, we will stop the safaris.”
Yesterday, a tourist from Calcutta, Dipak Saha, visited Chilapata with his friends. But they were told that the safaris had been suspended.
This morning, when they heard the car rides had resumed, they left for the forest.
“We were very happy with the news. We took the safari in the afternoon and saw gaur, three wild elephants and peacocks. The forest here is beautiful and it is sad if a visitor comes here but is unable to go inside the wild.”