The Buxa Tiger Reserve. File picture
Alipurduar, June 6: Mamata Banerjee has said car safaris that had been stopped in the Buxa Tiger Reserve four years ago should be revived, which would boost the tourism industry that directly and indirectly employs several thousand people.
The reserve which spans 762sqkm in Jalpaiguri district has rarely reported a tiger sighting in the last 30 years — government figures say there are 12-15 tigers in the reserve — but the area is known for its scenic beauty and other wild animals such as bison, elephants and deer.
The tourism season starts on September 15 and ends on June 15.
The chief minister also announced several other steps to boost tourism, such as making Jainti, an area inside the BTR, a model village.
Mamata said yesterday that “tourists like the car safari in BTR, which will be restored”.
Tour operators said that since the car safaris stopped in 2010, the number of tourists coming to the biggest forest in north Bengal had fallen. They could not give any figures, though.
The car safaris were stopped on September 16, 2010, under guidelines of the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
But in October 2012, the Supreme Court lifted the ban on tourists’ trips inside core areas of tiger reserves, after several state government and and tourism stake-holders urged that the ban on tourism in tiger reserves should be lifted.
The Centre filed an application seeking modification of the order and the court asked the Centre to hold consultations with the states and stake-holders and come out with fresh guidelines.
According to the fresh National Tiger Conservation Authority guidelines now, tourists may be allowed to visit 20 per cent of the core reserve area.
The conservation authority had recommended that a maximum of 20 per cent of the core/critical tiger habitat area be used for regulated, low-impact tourist visitation.
The guidelines said: “In case the current usage exceeds 20 per cent, the local area committee may decide on a time frame for bringing down the usage to 20 per cent. Such a area may be demarcated as a tourism zone and there should be strict adherence to site-specific carrying capacity.”
But for some inexplicable reason, car safaris were not revived in Buxa after the fresh guidelines were issued.
Chief minister Mamata said yesterday: “Like other places in the Dooars, we are concentrating on tourism in Buxa Duar and Jainti areas of Buxa Tiger Reserve. A.R. Bardhan, the tourism secretary, along with other officials last week visited Buxa Duar and Jainti and he will submit a report to me.”
She said that in Jainti and Buxa Duar, “tourism centres would be set up soon so that tourists can know about the history” behind the fort in Buxa Duar, a village in the BTA area, as well as other villages there.
The trekking route towards Buxa Duar and Lepchakha, another village, “have been improved and will be improved more in the near future”, the chief minister said.
Many tourists visit Buxa Duar and Lepchakha but there is no good accommodation for tourists. The tourists can come till Santlabari by car and then have to trek 2km to the Buxa fort as vehicles are not allowed beyond Santlabari because the road is not motorable.
Mamata, who has earlier spoken of initiating several tourist projects in the hills, said she was “impressed with the natural beauty in Jainti”, but added that the area was “congested”.
“I have asked Gautam Deb, the north Bengal development minister, to see if villagers can be shifted from Jainti, then developmental work in connection with tourism can be done there,” she said.
Mamata also spoke about a plan to make Jainti, which is in the BTR area, a model village.
A model village is generally one where tourists can avail themselves of homestays and mingle with the local community.
The community itself benefits as better roads, water supply and other amenities are made available for the villagers.
Biplab Dey, the vice-president of the Alipurduar Tour Operators’ Association, said: “It is good news that the car safari will be reintroduced in BTR as the number of tourists had dwindled in BTR because the safari service was unavailable.” He said: “After the Supreme Court lifted the ban and allowed tourism in tiger reserve, two years have gone but the car safari is yet to start in the reserve. We also appeal that the car safari service be introduced in such a manner that the wild animals should not be disturbed.”
Bhashkar J.B., the deputy field director of BTR (East), said: “We have already proposed to reintroduce the car safari in BTR. From Jainti, the tourists used to be taken to various spots on a trip that lasted for at least one hour. Another proposed route is from Rajabhatkhawa to 25th mile and Shikari Road. I think the proposal is in the final stage and will start from next season as the forest will be closed from 15th June.”