The State government’s decision to host respectable guests as “Vanatithi” in the state’s forests has drawn flak from conservationists. The Forest Department issued a government resolution (GR) on April 21, which says some respectable persons from within the state and outside are going to be hosted as Vanatithi (forest guests) with the government bearing the cost of reception, stay, food and travel. This, according to the GR, is aimed at popularising tourism in the state’s sanctuaries, tiger reserves and places of tourism in forests.
“Such respectable visitors create a lot of curiosity and interest about such places. It will thus give a fillip to forest tourism in a big way,” the GR says.
Coming down heavily on the government decision, leading conservationist Kishore Rithe has said, “Instead of helping local populations, who help run the whole tourism business of the forest department, the government is interested in giving privilege to some VIPs. As it is, tiger reserves and sanctuaries in the state are unable to cope with the rush of tourists. So why do we need this VIP promotion?”
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Rithe, ex-member National Board for Wildlife, added: “My organisation Satpuda Foundation organises wildlife and forest awareness camps for local tribal children. We also organise free health camps with some dedicated doctors contributing their mite. For all this, we bear the entire cost with no financial help from the forest department.”
He points out that the GR says funds for VIP reception have to be drawn from regular expenditure heads of the department. “Are they going to utilise funds from Tiger Foundations, which are supposed to be used for development of locals,” Rithe asked.
Central India director of Wildlife Protection Society of India Nitin Desai said, “As it is, wildlife tourism is criticised by many as a privilege of the rich. Why make it more VIP oriented? Instead of that, the forest department would serve the cause better by extending tourism to wider areas within the sanctuaries and reserves where it is currently restricted to some pockets. With this, tourists who can’t get there due to the rush will also be accommodated…”