AN American consultancy firm that was the sole proposer at the end of three Request for Proposal (RFP) bids has forwarded a plan of over Rs 800 crore to the state government to develop eco-tourism in the buffer area of Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR). But forest officials are apprehensive as the proposal is financially cumbersome and has the potential to hinder wildlife movement.
While some officials feel that the components proposed in the plan shouldn’t cost more than Rs 200 crore in total, the consultancy firm, Solimar International, has pegged the estimated cost of its extended proposal at around Rs 800 core. The forest department has set up a committee under the principal chief conservator of forest, Shri Bhagwan, to scrutinise the plan. The panel has submitted its report to the head of the forest force, Sarjan Bhagat, whose advice has also been sought by the government.
Asked about the proposal and the estimated cost, a senior forest official said he feels the project in its widened scope will have the potential to affect the wildlife movement. “It will cause hindrance. I suggest that the project be undertaken in the form envisaged in our original plan.”
A brain child of state finance and forest minister, Sudhir Mungantiwar, who hails from Chandrapur district where TATR is located, the project was originally conceived with components such as developing a new eco-tourism infrastructure, renovation of the existing one, developing nature tourism, setting up a live interpretation center, promoting livelihood through eco-tourism and developing tourist facilitation and publicity material in both the buffer and core areas of the TATR.
Solimar has proposed some other components beyond the RFP, which the proposer was allowed to suggest according to the provisions in the bid.
One such “outside proposal” is to create a 3,500 hectare Tadoba Conservation Park, a barricaded area on the lines of African safari parks to attract more foreign tourists.
Tadoba is one of the most sort-after tiger reserves in the country and according to forest sources, in 2015-2016, 1,36,368 tourists visited the reserve.
Solimar that has many Indian tourism and wildlife brains, as well as some retired forest officials on board, has also said in its proposal that the project will require the government to invest Rs 800 crore and it will attract private investment worth Rs 2,000 crore.
The company has quoted Rs 57 crore as the consultancy cost.
“The vast gap between our original idea and Solimar’s additional suggestion in terms of the costs incurred is due to this conservation park that is slated to have facilities such as carnivore safari, breeding centre and rescue centre etc. Of course, we had not pegged any estimate for our own plan and Rs 200 crore is our rough estimate,” said a senior official.
Forest officials, barring Bhagwan, are not amenable to the idea of burdening the TATR buffer with such infrastructure as they feel it would adversely affect the cause of tiger conservation. “I am not of the opinion that we need anything of the sort suggested by Solimar outside the expectations expressed in the RFP. Crowding the TATR buffer with such tourism facilities on all sides will be detrimental to the movement of tiger and other wildlife through the corridors,” said an official involved in the process.
Asked about the proposal, Bhagwan told the Indian Express: “I found nothing in the ideas suggested beyond the scope of the RFP that will affect the wildlife. So, I have given a go-ahead. As regards to the cost overrun, it is in the purview of the finance department.”
Asked if and how it is justified to spend such a huge amount on one single reserve and its buffer, which together occupies about 1,800 sqkm, when the entire budget for the forest department is Rs 900 crore (for forests covering 61,000 hectare), Bhagwan said: “This money is going to be spent over a few years till the project is completed. But that, anyway, is the purview of the finance department.”
Once the proposal is accepted, Solimar will be given to task of submitting a detailed project report for the project.
Forest department’s original proposal:
* World-class interpretation centres at Moharli and Kolara gatesn
* Souvenir shops
* Butterfly garden
* 4D theatre
* Bird enrichment area
* Nature & exploratory trails
* Tourist facilitation cells
* Renovation of entry gates
* Forest guest houses
* Boating and water sports
* Adventure tourism
* Nature education camps
* Brand Tadoba and marketing of local products
* Skill upgradation for locals to manufacture quality product
* Two eco-villages
* Facilitating reaping of maximum tourism benefits for locals
* Generating more foreign exchange.