While the forest department waived the Rs. 500 fee for taking cameras inside the Okhla Bird Sanctuary in September, due to a lack of communication, many birdwatchers are still unaware of the move and have been staying away from the sanctuary. Moreover, the website of the sanctuary continues to display Rs. 500 as camera fees for Indians and Rs. 1,000 for foreign nationals.
“In a meeting of the advisory committee held in September, it was decided that the camera fee will be waived for visitors. In order to encourage birdwatchers and attract more visitors, the chief conservator of forest and other senior officials took this decision,” said IC Singh, forest ranger, Okhla Bird Sanctuary.
Although the department has issued the directions on its level, the government order that brought in the camera fee is still in effect. As per the order, Rs. 500 is to be charged per visit from Indians and Rs. 1,000 from foreign nationals for still cameras and handycams. If one wants to take a digital movie camera with him/her, the fee is Rs. 5,000 for Indians and Rs. 10,000 for foreign nationals.
“It is a welcome decision by the forest department, but they should come out with a new government order so that the fee is not charged in future. Many birdwatchers are unaware of this change as the website still mentions Rs. 500 as the camera fee,” said Ananda Banerjee, an avid birdwatcher and photographer.
Banerjee said birdwatchers visit the sanctuary every weekend in the winter when migratory birds start arriving from various parts of the world. “I have been visiting the sanctuary for the last 20 years. They started charging a camera fee about three years ago and this kept many visitors away,” he said.
Spread over 4 sq km, the sanctuary becomes a temporary home for winter migratory waterbirds such as northern shoveler, great flamingo, great white pelican, common coot, black headed gull, graylag goose and Eurasian wigeon. They mainly fly in from Siberia, North and Central Asia every year.