State tourism project to straddle jumbo corridor (India)


Times of India

Date Published
Kolkata/Jalpaiguri: A much-touted tourism project by the state government is threatening a key elephant corridor in north Bengal.

Coming up on a 90-acre plot near Sylee tea estate, 20 kilometres from Malbazar, the project is coming up on a corridor used by the jumbos for movement between Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary and Kalimpong forest division.

Though the project components are yet to be finalized, the land has already been identified in compartment number 8 of the tea estate, also known as Nayabasti.

Interestingly, to the north-east of the project site lies the forest of Bhuttabari that is being used by the elephants for years for crossing over to this side from the Sakma forest of Kalimpong division. From Bhuttabari, one herd enters the forest of Apalchand in Baikunthapur division via Sylee tea estate and another group crosses Teesta river to enter Mahananda Sanctuary.

“This is an established elephant corridor and a project here will trigger man-elephant conflict in this area. The place is dotted with tea gardens and hence elephant depredation in these gardens is bound to rise once the project comes up. No doubt, there is need for a socio-economic development in this region, but the state should also ensure the right of passage to the elephants,” said Animesh Bose, a member of the state wildlife advisory board.

Echoing his view, former standing committee member of national board for wildlife (NBWL), Prerna Bindra, said: “This region sees one of the highest human-elephant conflict, and a project of this scale will escalate it further. Wildlife concerns must be factored in for projects in key wildlife corridors, and we need to protect them as eco-sensitive zones, which was taken up by the national board of wildlife.”

Joint director of tourism, north Bengal, Sunil Agarwal confirmed that the land has already been identified. “But, due to encroachment issues, we couldn’t proceed further. We have engaged a consultant, IL&FS, for doing a feasibility study,” Agarwal said, adding that depending on the success of the Gajaldoba tourism hub, work for which is underway, they will decide on how to proceed with the Sylee project.

While the tourism minister has assured to look into the matter, the forest minister is completely in dark. “If the site falls on an elephant corridor, we will definitely give a second thought before going ahead with the project,” said Bratya Basu, the tourism minister who has recently assumed charge. “I am not aware of the project,” said forest minister Binoy Burman.

Conservationist Joydip Kundu said a huge portion of key elephant habitat in this region has been utilized for rail projects. “Now, tourism projects are posing a threat to our national heritage animal. Why this? Because the jumbos don’t have voting rights?” he asked.

Jalpaiguri district magistrate Pritha Sarkar said the project would be developed on a PPP model. “The land belongs to tourism department and several parts of it had earlier been encroached by common people. If an elephant corridor is so important to the forest department, why did it sit idly for so many years without taking any action against the encroachers?” she asked. Sources revealed that natural resources will be used for the project to set up resorts, food courts, health centres and spa.