WITH OVER 2 lakh devotees thronging the forest areas of Sanjay Gandhi National Park and Tungareshwar wildlife sanctuary for Mahashivratri Monday night, no major fire, a usual occurrence in the past years, was reported this time.
Forest department officials said while there was no incident of fire at the SGNP both at the Borivli -end and on the Mulund-Yeoor side, a minor fire at Tungareshwar was immediately brought under control.
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Apart from the entire staff of the forest department at each spot, over 200 volunteers, including students from city colleges and wildlife enthusiasts, kept a constant vigil on the devotees entering the forest area.
“We checked the belongings of those entering to ensure that no flammable objects, including matchsticks and incense sticks, were carried inside. In the previous years, there would be seven-eight major incidents of fire,” said Assistant Conservator of Forests Uday Dhage.
Volunteers said the number of people seeking entry into the forest areas on Mahashivratri had reduced compared to previous years.
At SGNP, people were also given refund coupons to ensure they do not litter. “We insisted on counting objects, including water bottles and other plastic items, that people were carrying. A fee was levied on each of the items, for instance, Rs 25 per bottle. The money was returned only if they came back with the same number of items, which meant they had not littered,” said Noor Afsha, a volunteer who was at the SGNP entry point. Afsha said they confiscated items such as alcohol bottles, tobacco and smoking pipes.
The forest department had also put up a banner declaring that there was no temple inside the SGNP at the Borivli end. Afsha said many people were unaware about this fact. There is a temple inside Tungareshwar wildlife sanctuary, and a few at SGNP on the Mulund-Yeoor side.
Krishna Tiwari, wildlife researcher and conservationist, said the officials and volunteers at Tungareshwar confiscated around ‘half a truck’ of plastic and flammable items from over 1.5 lakh devotees. “We kept vigil from 6pm on Sunday to 8 pm on Monday. In the past, there would be fires, which caused ecological loss to the forest,” Tiwari said.
For the first time this year, the forest department put up a large list of prohibitions on multiple banners across the area with a warning of punishment under the Wildlife Protection Act, he said. Tiwari said many encroachments had taken place inside forest areas, adding that temples had mushroomed too.
Another volunteer said large crowds caused disturbances in the forest areas. “On Mahashivratri, the large number of people who enter the forest make it look like a fair. This has even led to the creation of many unnecessary pathways damaging the growth of existing plants. We have been telling people that they should ideally go to temples outside the range,” said Tejal Vishweshwar, a volunteer at the Yeoor-Mulund range of SGNP.