Jumbo and fire at tour site
A portion of landscape at the tourism hub built by the Bengal government in Gajoldoba was destroyed by a fire that was suspected to have been caused by sound crackers hurled to steer back a wild elephant which entered the site on Monday night.
The elephant entry and the blaze point to the need for improved infrastructure to meet exigencies at Bhorer Alo that came up on 208 acres between the Baikunthapur forest and the Teesta.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s pet tourism project is located around 25km from Siliguri.
Sources said the elephant had entered the tourism hub from the adjoining forest. Foresters, with the help of local people, managed to arrest the flames before they could reach near the tourist cottages. A fire engine from Siliguri reached the spot after some time.
“Around 11.30pm, an elephant entered the tourism site. As the area is close to the forest, there is always a chance of an elephant attack and we remain alert. We rushed to the spot and steered the animal back to the forest before it could cause any damage to the area and the infrastructure,” said Sanjoy Dutta, the Belakoba forest range officer.
A source said the local people and forest department had tossed sound crackers at the elephant to scare it away. “Sound crackers ignited a fire which destroyed a number of trees planted for the landscape at the tourist facility,” said a source.
“There would have been extensive damage to cottages if the fire had progressed. Bhorer Alo is one of the popular tourist destinations these days and hundreds go there. It is a dream project of the chief minister and was implemented by the tourism department, along with other departments like forest, public works and irrigation,” said a source in the Jalpaiguri district administration.
Dutta dodged a direct reply when asked whether the fire had been triggered by the sound crackers. “While we were driving the elephant away, we spotted the fire engulfing some trees and plants. We immediately informed the fire brigade which along with local people doused the flames,” the forester said.
The fire and the elephant entry didn’t cause any casualty. Sources said there was hardly any tourist on Monday night.
The site has six cottages and the government plans to set up 20 more. At least three private resorts are scheduled to come up on the site.
The incident on Monday night prompted travel operators to demand augmentation of infrastructure at Gajoldoba.
“The chief minister has announced that a separate police station will come up for the tourism hub. But straying of the elephant has showed there is also a need to have a dedicated team of foresters on the site so that they can immediately drive away wild animals. There should also be proper arrangements for firefighting as the area is surrounded by vegetation. During dry seasons, fire can spread easily,” said a senior travel operator in Siliguri.
The Belakoba forest range office is more than 12km from Bhorer Alo. Apart from Gajoldoba, around 3,000 hectares of forest and 32 villages are under the Belakoba range.