Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP)has a newentrance,amongseveral other facilities, at Thane. Park officials hope this will attract thousands of new visitors from this fast-developing region and beyond.
Earlier, visitors could access the 104 sq km national park only from the Borivli side,where all the public amenities are located. But last month, facilities were opened at the Manpada end in Thane too.
SGNPis the most frequented national park in Asia with over two million visitors a year, according to its website.
“The park will nowbe easily accessible to people fromThane and beyond, especially for students of environmental studies,” said P. Munde, chief conservator.
The park, 10 sq km of which are encroached by hutments and farms, is also under threat fromresidential buildings on its land.
The worried authorities hope that making the park more accessible will lead to greater environmental awareness, which in turn will help them preserve the park.
The government’s policy on this is driven by a court order that directed it to clear all encroachments and rehabilitate encroachers who have ration cards or are on electoral rolls. About 40 per cent of this work is done.
However, the park still has a very long way to go.
The Manpada area was developed years ago but no one used the entrance because there were no facilities there, apart from an ignored conservation centre. People living in Thane and the central suburbs travelled to Borivli to access the park and enjoy the short bus ride in the lion and tiger safari.
Now, the Manpada end boasts of two camping cottages, a ticket counter, nature trails, toilets and water facilities.
The conservation centre has also been refurbished. The forest department has put up information boards explaining the park’s ecology and plant and animal species.
The construction work began a year ago and it was opened to the public last month.
Environmentalists feel the new entrance has a lot of potential but needs trained personnel to handle it. “Sixty per cent of the forest is in Thane. While the Borivli side might have the safari, the Thane side is far more pristine,” said Krishna Tiwari, of the Bombay Natural History Society, who works on city forests.
“If marketed well, this entrance willsoon get more popular than the Borivli one and increase revenues. It will also encourage more visitors from areas like Ghatkopar, Vashi and Thane,” Tiwari said. “Another important centre that has been neglected is the marine conservation centre.With mudflats and mangroves being a part of SGNP, this centre will be very useful.”
Schools in the eastern suburbs are enthusiastic about easier accessibility to the park. “To arrange for a day trip and go all the way to Borivli was quite a task. Every school goes to SGNP as part of its environmental studies and the Thane side is perfect for hikes as it is untouched,” said Neelam Malik, principal of Arya Gurukul High School in Kalyan.