Inauguration of new safari zone put on hold

Decision not to open Nugu sanctuary for tourists came hours after invitation for inauguration emerged on social media

The Forest Department has put on hold the inauguration of a tourism zone with facilities for safari, which was slated in the Nugu Wildlife Sanctuary for Friday. Nugu Wildlife Sanctuary is part of notified buffer zone of the Bandipur Tiger Reserve since 2010 and an eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) since 2012.

The decision against opening Nugu sanctuary for tourists came within hours after the invitation for the inauguration emerged on social media and elicited criticism.

R. Balachandra, director, Bandipur Tiger Reserve, said a proposal for the new safari zone was pending before the government for long and was yet to get clearance. He said they have sought fresh assessment of its feasibility, besides other clarifications, and any decision on the Nugu safari and tourism zone has been put on hold.

When asked about the invitation, Mr. Balachandra said it was released without his knowledge and reiterated that there was no opening of a new safari zone at Nugu.

Sources said that there should not be another tourism zone in Bandipur which is already saturated.

They added that if there is an additional zone, it would result in proliferation of related commercial activities over time which would encourage human intrusion.

“There could be additional hotels and resorts, which are prohibited as per an ESZ notification and even the Supreme Court issued directives against it in 2012,” said an activist. The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) also has to approve the proposal before any swathe of forest can be opened up for tourists.

Bandipur was the first national park to get ESZ notified and in the consultative meetings, elected representatives and the locals were unanimous against expanding tourism activities in the forests.

At present, only ‘Zone A’, around Mangala village, is open to tourism and increasing it will violate ESZ guidelines, said activists.

There are also speculations that the department – which has a history of cracking down on illegal homestays since 2012 – could be under pressure from the political lobby. Sources said influential leaders were holding large swathes of land in the region and officials could be under pressure to open up Nugu as it could be commercially beneficial to them.

Activists pointed out that Nugu is a vulnerable area as far as human-elephant conflicts are concerned, and that the msot elephant depredation cases are from there and introducing the safari would escalate conflicts.

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