Nov 18, 2014
PILIBHIT: Chuka spot in Pilibhit Tiger Reserve has been thrown open for tourists just a few days ago, but few people know that a dedicated forest officer almost single-handedly developed the site, without any help from the state government. Way back in December 2002, the then divisional forest officer Ramesh Pandey took it upon himself to develop the spot, situated on the banks of Sharda Sagar Dam, as a tourist spot. However, he did not get any financial aid from the state government. Undeterred, Pandey, an IFS officer, asked his peers to donate a part of their salary to help in developing the spot, which could prove to be a big help in tiger conservation.
Not just this, he got villagers living nearby to actively involve themselves in the project, so that they could act as protectors of the ecology.
He intensified the joint forestry management system in collaboration with Gram Sabhas and announced that the incomes anticipated to be accrued through eco-tourism at Chuka would be transferred directly to the bank accounts of the joint forestry management committees with provisions to spend the money for the welfare of villagers. With the help of his colleagues, Pandey managed to build four huts at the spot. However, he could not give full play to his dreams as he was transferred from there in January 2004. Subsequently, the forest department built three more huts and a lodge there and on November 15, the spot was formally thrown open for tourists. However, the move has drawn flak from some eminent personalities in the field as the state government and forest department have taken no initiative to build facilities for tourists at the spot, which is situated deep in the jungle. Speaking with TOI, Pandey, currently posted as joint development commissioner in MSME ministry, said his main aim while developing Chuka spot was tiger conservation and active participation of all segments of society. “Making the spot picturesque was a way of ensuring that urban travelers would come to visit Chuka. This would have increased their awareness about biodiversity and also increased contributions for the reserve,” he said.
The then DFO added that the second important objective was to ensure concerted role of villagers, living in the proximity of forest area, to act as real protectors of forests and the wildlife. He had also chalked out a plan to introduce a pollution free and eco-friendly transport for carrying tourists up to Chuka from the entry point of forest in the form of a stylish bullock cart. But because he was transferred from Pilibhit just within 13 months of his stay in Pilibhit, he could not implement all his plans, he said. The spot was opened for tourists on November 15 for the current season after an official ceremony presided over by the chief conservator of forest and the district magistrate of Pilibhit. However, the forest department officials have overlooked some very important steps which would be required in a tourist spot. Vice-president of Wildlife Biodiversity Conservation Society, Amitabh Agnihotri rued the fact that in 11 years, the state government had done nothing to build upon Pandey’s vision. Presently, Chuka Spot is equipped with seven huts, in which two people can stay, and a suit that can accommodate four persons. “Chuka had been first established in 2003 by Ramesh Pandey without any fund allocated by the state or the central government. He had raised the fund for developing Chuka Spot by asking his staff members to contribute a part of their monthly salary for this project on regular basis,” Agnihotri said. Pandey and his forest team had set up four beautiful nature huts for the stay of tourists apart from giving a picturesque shape to the surroundings of Chuka Spot. He had selected the site for this tourist spot amid the dense Sal forest belt adjacent to Sharda Sagar dam, which escalated the beauty of this spot, Agnihotri said. He added that there were other spots as well which could be developed as tourist destinations if PTR officials tie up with the tourism ministry and hotel industry, but PTR authorities had not chalked out any such plan. After the notification of Pilibhit Tiger Reserve issued by the state government in June, eco-tourism has been made an indispensable part of PTR with a view of income generation as well as to vie with other famous forest sanctuaries, tiger reserves and the national parks over the issue of fame. The founder chairman of Pilibhit Round Table Club and a renowned businessman, Ashok Goel pointed out that the officials had not thought of tourists’ safety before throwing open Chuka spot for public. “There is no electricity there. It is so dangerous for tourists as all kinds of wild animals could come and attack them,” Goel added. He also claimed that Chuka is afflicted with complete mismanagement. “The keepers demand fuel from tourists to provide the facility of generator at night but the fare which is charged from the tourists is inclusive of the continuous service of generator,” Goel added. There is no provision for quality food at Chuka and no armed security guards at night to keep tourists safe. “With such a lax attitude, how do the officials hope to attract tourists there?” Managing director of Sharda hospital, Rajiv Agarwal, and the managing director of Pushp Institute of Sciences and Higher Studies SPS Sandhu also noted that PTR officials have not deployed any staff at the gateway to Chuka Spot to guide tourists to Chuka. “There is no facility for online booking either. In this age of internet, the officials cannot afford to be lax about latest technology to attract tourists,” said Agarwal. Currently, the only way to book a hut at the spot is either from PTR headquarters or the spot itself. When contacted, the chief conservator of forest MP Singh could not articulate any plan on how the objective of popularizing PTR and Chuka Tourist Spot would be achieved. DM Om Narayan Singh said that he would assist the forest department in providing big boards, displaying the salient features of PTR, for placing them at different spots within the district but, at the same time, also needed a working plan to be prepared by forest department on this.
As posted in Timesofindia.indiatimes.com