Visiting prominent tiger reserves of Madhya Pradesh has become next to impossible with entry tickets to the reserves being completely "sold out" till June. HT found out that the non-availability of entry tickets is not due to the rush of genuine tourists, but because of prominent hotels and lodges blocking tickets.
The forest department is aware of this, but is yet to take any step.
The online entry ticket booking system through the web portal mponline.gov.in is showing either zero or just a handful of entry tickets for prominent parks like Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench. Bandhavgarh, a small reserve with a carrying capacity of few vehicles, is the worst hit. The Tala zone at the reserve is showing no availability till June 10. The Mukki zone in Kanha and the Karmajhiri and Touria zone in Pench have the same issue.
This is how the system is being manipulated: Large hotels and lodges book entry tickets in advance using fictitious names. The moment they get a booking from a guest, they return the entry ticket bearing the fictitious name. The online system shows availability of a ticket the moment the ticket is returned. This ticket is then purchased in the name of the guest. While this leaves genuine tourists with no option of visiting the tiger reserves, the hotel and lodge owners having advance booking leverage that to get more guests. In case the hotels don’t get bookings for the day they hold tickets for, they return the tickets. No cost is imposed on returning the tickets, which is why the racket is flourishing.
What has compounded the problem further is that the number of vehicles allowed in each reserve has been severely curtailed following the new guidelines on eco-tourism. Some touts have also entered the fray. “I have learnt that the online booking system is being exploited. I was also told that touts had booked entry tickets for December 31 and sold it in black, at a huge premium,” said the field director of a tiger reserve, on condition of anonymity.
If the tickets are returned before 72 hours of the date for which it is booked, it is reflected in the system. If the tickets are returned within 72 hours of the day for which they were booked, they are transferred to the current booking or gate booking quota. “We have been planning a visit to Bandhavgarh once the schools close down. However, the online booking system does not show any availability of entry tickets for Tala zone upto June,” said Anuvind Harkawat, a resident of Bhopal.
Some local lodge-owners who cannot take on the big lodges have complained to the chief wildlife warden about the issue. “We will examine the problems and take corrective steps if required,” said PK Shukla, chief wildlife warden, Madhya Pradesh. A way out of this could be non-refundable tickets - on the lines of the Tatkal scheme in the railways. This would discourage non-serious visitors and also those aiming to exploit the system to their advantage,” said a lodge-owner in Bandhavgarh.