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Sunderbans patrol plea

Calcutta, Feb. 23: Tour operators in Calcutta today said policing in the waters of Sunderbans needed to be strengthened, a day after a group of tourists was robbed on a launch by pirates.

Armed with pistols and knives, pirates had yesterday attacked the MV Jamuna, which was moored about 2km from Kaikhali in South 24-Parganas, and robbed and assaulted about 40 sleeping tourists.

One person has been detained in connection with the robbery.

Anil Punjabi, the chairman of Travel Agents Federation of India, which sends to the Sunderbans every month more than 1,500 tourists, 70 per cent of them foreigners, said incidents like robberies would affect the flow of tourists.

“One of the most essential factors for a place to develop as a popular tourist destination is security. The robbery will project the Sunderbans in a negative light. The place lacks proper infrastructure like transport and hotels. But now, security is also a cause for concern, Policing needs to be strengthened,” he said.

A government official said the departments of Sunderbans development, tourism and home would meet soon to discuss security in the area.

The government promotes the Sunderbans mangrove forests in international tourism campaigns. According to sources, more than one lakh tourists visit the Sunderbans every year.

Last year, the state tourism department had mooted a plan to set up tourism police to patrol various destinations such as the Sunderbans, Digha, Mandarmani and Darjeeling.

“The proposal is yet to take shape,” a government official said.

Tourists who often visit the mangrove forests said patrolling in the waters was not a regular sight. “Police patrols are as elusive as the Royal Bengal Tigers,” said Lake Road resident Sandip Basu.

K. P. Barui, the additional superintendent of police in South 24-Parganas, said the launch that was robbed yesterday had made the “mistake” of mooring 2km from the Kaikhali jetty, which “made them an easy meat for the pirates”.

The state tourism department had showcased the Sunderbans at the World Tourist Mart held in London in October 2012. The mangrove forests will also be promoted at the Berlin International Travel Mart, scheduled in March this year.