Bengal’s bid to resume eco tourism in northern districts has local people wary
Locals in the north Bengal region are worried that the government’s decision to open eco-tourism centres will lead to a spike in Covid 19 cases.Updated: Jul 07, 2020 20:52 IST
The bid by the Trinamool Congress government to reopen eco-tourism centres run by the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation (WBFDC) in north Bengal has created fear among local people who feel that entry of tourists may spike Covid-19 cases in the region.
Till Tuesday, 647 Covid-19 cases were reported in Darjeeling district. The adjoining Kalimpong district has recorded 56 cases while Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar have recorded 402 and 188 cases respectively.
WBFDC runs 13 tourism centres in Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar. Though bookings for the centres in Darjeeling have not started yet, those in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar have opened and tourists have started arriving, officials said.
In Kalimpong district, the centres in Jhalong, Paren and Mongpong are operating. Local people are unhappy about this and some forest department officials said off the record that they apprehend law and order problems.
Kartabya Pradhan, secretary of Samsing-Kumai Home Stay Owners Association, said “There is no screening system for tourists arriving at the WBFDC-run centres located in remote places. We have been repeatedly requesting the police, forest department and Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) to ensure that tourists are properly screened. Nobody has paid any heed.”
Reacting to the apprehensions among local people, B Shewa, general manager of WBFDC said, “We opened the eco tourism centres following government orders. The local economy is largely dependent on tourism and it has nosedived in three months. We understand and respect the sentiment of the local people. We have to make them understand that we are taking precautions.”
“Though the centres in Takdah, Lepchajagat, Lava, Loleygaon and Samsing in the hills are closed, the move to open the centres in Paren and Jhalong without consulting local people may lead to unrest,” said Kishore Thapa, the north Bengal coordinator of All India Union for Forest People and Workers.
M Lama, a resident of Jaldakah, said “Local people are so concerned that only one vehicle is allowed to ply every day to bring people from Siliguri. Under these circumstances, the arrival of tourists has not gone down well with local residents.”
A senior forest officer in Darjeeling, who didn’t wish to be named said, “Home-stay facilities have not opened because of the fear among local people. Tourists may face opposition.”
Pradhan said, “We have decided not to open home-stay facilities till August. We have requested WBFDC to take into account the fear among residents.”