Vehicles with tourists pass through NH31 in Gorumara National Park. File picture

TT, Jalpaiguri, June 21: The forest department has decided to slap fines on visitors to the eco-tourism zones in the unprotected areas of for flouting guidelines with regard to their and animals’ safety.

The move was prompted by a two-day awareness drive carried out by the forest department and police, along with NGOs, on the 10km stretch of NH31 that passes through Gorumara.
Three eco-tourism zones, Ramsai, Metla and Chukchuki, are along the 10km stretch and are frequented by hundreds of people everyday.
People were seen getting off vehicles and clicking selfies with elephants in the background and cars and motorbikes were found exceeding the speed limit in the forest during the drive.
BadalGorumara National Park Debnath, the additional divisional forest officer of Jalpaiguri, who led the awareness drive, said visitors had total disregard for their and animals’ safety.
“We have seen couples posing for a selfie when elephant herds were crossing the road. We have caught at least six couples doing so. They had either got off their vehicles or motorbikes to take pictures. We have also cleaned up the stretch of empty liquor bottles and plastic packets,” Debnath said.
Sumita Ghatak, divisional forest officer (wildlife), said during the past two days, the errant visitors had been let off with warnings.
“For the past two days, we have tried to make visitors aware of the safety norms in and outside the forest. Taking selfies after getting off vehicles is unsafe. We have also seen that some visitors use camera flashes, which is highly disturbing to animals like elephants and can make them charge. We will take action and fine people violating the safety norms. The fine can be up to Rs 2,000. Drivers who exceed the speed limit of 40km can be fined up to Rs 7,000 for each violation,” Ghatak said.
The forests in north Bengal remain shut for visitors between June 15 and September 15 annually. However, visitors can go to the unprotected forests around the park, like Ramsai, Metla and Chukchuki. Elephants use the unprotected forest areas as corridors as they forage for food and cross the highway.
Forest sources said besides elephants, rhinos and gaur also came to the unprotected areas for food.
“We are keeping a watch on the unprotected areas. We will be installing surveillance cameras at these spots, especially along the elephant corridors, to monitor the situation and we are working on the number of cameras and the spots where they will be fitted. The cameras will be monitored by our guards,” Ghatak said.
Jalpaiguri police superintendent Akash Magheria said the police would also monitor visitors to the forest. “We are working with the foresters to ensure the safety of visitors and animals,” he said.