Pune forest department bans entry to Tamhini, Andharban, Sudhagarh
Move aims to protect biodiversity of Western ghats from unregulated tourism.
To protect the biodiversity and ecosystem of the Western ghats, the forest department has taken strict measures by imposing a ban on entering eco-sensitive parts of Sudhagarh and Andharban in Mulshi area and the Tamhini ghat.
Sharing more details about the ban, Vivek Khandekar, chief conservator of forest, Pune circle, said, “Two months ago, we conducted a survey in these areas and found that unregulated tourism in the region is destroying biodiversity. We are therefore contemplating and will be taking firm criminal action against unauthorised entry into the area.”
Tamhini Wildlife Sanctuary was listed under the state forest department’s protected areas category in 2013.
“We have already started working on the plan and patrolling parties will keep a watch on tourist activities in the ghat. If needed, we are ready to gather additional manpower, especially on weekends when the footfall is high. Defaulters will face strict action as it will be a non-bailable offence. If found guilty, the tour operator will face imprisonment of upto six years,” added Khandekar.
The 49.62 square kilometre Tamhini ghat has been carved out from 12 compartments of reserved forest land from Paud and Sinhagad ranges under the Pune forest division.
According to the forest department, the sanctuary is home to over 25 species of mammals, including the giant squirrel (locally called shekru), leopard and barking deer; over 150 species of birds and over 70 species of butterflies.
Andharban, which means ‘the dark forest’, is a 13-kilometre jungle stretch located in the midst of the Tamhini ghat. The trek concludes at the Bhira dam, which is the origin of the Kundalika river, famous for white water river rafting. Naturally, it is a popular destination for adventure enthusiasts and during monsoon, several tour operators organise treks to the Andharban ghat. On weekends, the footfall in the area goes over five thousand. (5,000)
Environmentalists welcome decision
Biologist Lakshminarasimha Ranganathan, who has done a PhD on the behavioural ecology of the Western tragopan, said this was a good sign.
“Biodiversity in the entire Western ghat region is threatened. The condition is slightly better in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, but in the Sahyadri ranges, drastic measures are required. The government is moving in the right direction,” he said.
“Out of 4,303 rare plants in India, almost 40 to 50 are found in the Western ghat section and it is essential to protect these rare plants at any cost. Even researchers take permission to enter in protected areas, so if forest department is putting a ban it’s a good news,” he added.
Meanwhile, Onkar Oak, city-based trekker said that this will put a restriction on the commercialisation of the Sahyadri ranges.
“Last year, two trekkers were rescued from Andharban area in July. Hirdi, a small settlement which is also the starting point of the trek to Andharban, is now buzzing with tourists and several constructions, including hotels and resorts. The ban on entering these eco-sensitive areas will give a breathing space for the flora and fauna found here,” Oak added.
As per the study using line transect and point count methods, from the year 2011 to 2013, the updated checklist of birds at the Tamhini sanctuary now has 164 bird species. The present study reported 35 new specie records in the area, while 15 bird species that were reported earlier were not observed during the study.
Four restricted range of species were recorded at the sanctuary as Nilgiri wood pigeon (Columba elphinstonii), Malabar grey hornbill (ocyceros griseus), white-bellied blue-flycatcher (cyornis pallidipes) and crimson-backed sunbird (leptocoma minima).