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Scent of Africa in North Bengal

Siliguri’s image as gateway to the northeast and a trading hub is likely to get a facelift if the ambitious plan of a safari park aiming to attract tourists sees the light of the day.

kolkata Updated: Dec 08, 2012 12:01 IST
Pramod Giri

Siliguri’s image as gateway to the northeast and a trading hub is likely to get a facelift if the ambitious plan of a safari park aiming to attract tourists sees the light of the day. However, one can expect the process to linger, as it was the case during the railway gauge conversion from New Jalpaiguri to Alipurduar.

The state’s forest, tourism and North Bengal development departments has fast forwarded plans for a safari park. The government is also keen to get immediately get clearance from the union ministry of environment and forests and Central Zoo Authority. They apprehend some NGOs would oppose the project and drag it to the courts.

On Thursday, Hiten Burman the state forest minister said, “The work for proposed Safari Park in Mahananda Wild Life Sanctuary (MWLS) would begin immediately after it gets clearance from Central Zoo Authority and no objection from the Supreme Court.”

Burman added that R50 crores would be spent in the first phase. The three departments - forest, tourism and North Bengal development department - have jointly drawn an ambitious plan to come up with the safari park at Mahananda Wild Life Sanctuary on the outskirts of Siliguri beside NH 31.

As per the plan, six types of safaris would be organised in the core area of the sanctuary including deer, elephant and tiger. The core area would have a cafeteria. The proposed safari park would be the biggest in entire North Bengal, said Sunil Agarwal the joint director of West Bengal tourism department.

At present, in North Bengal, elephant safaris are conducted at Gorumara, Chapramari and Jaldapara.
The ministers and officers of all the three departments believe that once the safari park at present day Saurya Park near Salugara comes up, Siliguri would become another tourist attraction in North Bengal. So far, Siliguri is just used as transit point by tourists visiting Sikkim, Darjeeling and other parts of North Bengal.

Other than corporate clients, tourists hardly spend their time in Siliguri, basically a trading hub. The proposed safari park is set to change the town’s image.

However, the proposed safari park spread over hundreds of acres of land deep inside the sanctuary, is likely to meet hurdles at the hands of environmentalists.

The conversion of 168 km-long railway track between New Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar from metre gauge to broad gauge had met with stiff opposition from the wild life activists and environmentalists, on the contention that it would result in massive felling of trees and endanger the lives of wild animals.

The project also got delayed for several years due to court cases and finally it was converted to broad gauge in 2004.

The railway track passes through many wild life sanctuaries, national and reserved forests. The gauge conversion has also resulted in more number of wild animals getting killed by trains.

B R Sharma the chief conservator of forest (wild life, north) said, “A master plan would soon be sent to the Central Zoo Authority.”

After the Authority gives its nod and the Supreme Court gives its no objection, we would proceed with the project work, said Sharma.

However, a section of forest officials are apprehensive about the damage the project might cause to the forest. They fear some NGOs would come forward to oppose the project as they did with the railway track conversion.