40 bikers booked for using wildlife sanctuary as racing track, 1 heldUpdated: Feb 12, 2020 00:31 IST
Forest officials, on Tuesday, arrested one person of a biking club for using a protected wildlife sanctuary as a motorcycle racing track in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). The 85 sq. km protected area has a porous boundary with the Western Express Highway and Kaman-Bhiwandi State Highway running along its boundaries.
A group of 40 bikers, all MMR residents, were spotted by local birders on Sunday racing through the Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary (TWLS), Vasai, and a video was circulated. The video was brought to the notice of the forest department by environment group Conservation Action Trust (CAT), following which a detailed investigation was initiated. “This is a serious violation on accounts of trespassing, possible harm to wildlife, noise pollution, and violation of Bombay high court (HC) orders that protect the sanctuary. We have booked an offence under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 against 40 persons who are part of a club for illegally racing bikes inside the sanctuary,” said Dilip Tonde, range forest officer, TWLS.
Tonde said that they cannot disclose the name of the accused (arrested on Tuesday) yet as interrogation is underway to identify other members of the club. “The bikers have been entering the sanctuary from Sativali zone and exiting from Parol. Owing to staff shortage, we were not able to nab them during the act. However, additional staff has been put in place with increased surveillance at both the entry and exit points. Our teams have been deployed across MMR to track other bikers based on information from the person arrested,” he said.
A recently released report by the Centre on management practices at TWLS said the entire sanctuary was being administered under one range. “One more forest range needs to be created for better management, and additional staff, 18 forest guards, and temporary officers are needed for better vigilance,” the report said.
Environmentalists were shocked that such activities were underway less than 25 km from Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP). “The road being used by these bikers is illegal, and by not demolishing it, the forest department is facilitating such illegal activities. It is strange that not one forest officer was aware of bike movements inside the park as these are dirt bikes, and make a lot of noise,” said Debi Goenka, executive trustee, CAT.