Sunday, November 19, 2006

Indian wildlife sanctuary home to leopards, caracals resumes normalcy

Mount Abu's tourism industry returns to normalcy

Jodhpur, Nov. 18 (ANI): Mount Abu's tourism industry limped back to normalcy, on Friday, after a three-day shutdown had greatly affected it.

Mount Abu, the scenic hill station in Rajasthan witnessed protests and shutdowns for the last five days supported by the surrounding villages. Tourists visiting the hill station faced the brunt of it.

Popular for eco-tourism, Mount Abu, which is located 25 km from Sirohi District was notified as a wildlife sanctuary on October 4. The Collector of the area, S K Mittal, issued the notification, declaring the entire 112 sq km area of Mount Abu as a forest zone.

State Government Additional Chief Secretary D C Samant will review the notification, which has included areas such as Nach village resorts frequented by the tourist.

Neighbouring villages, including Arna, Hetamji, Shergaon, Oriya and Achalgarh had also remained closed to support the protests against the notification.

Rich in diverse flora and fauna, Mount Abu's Panther, Sloth Bear, Hyaena, Jackal and Caracal are of conservation interest.

An apex court panel had recommended that Mount Abu and its neighbouring villages be spared from being declared a part of a forest sanctuary.

The shutdown caused problems to both the tourists and locals.

"We were surprised, as we were not allowed to enter the town after sunset," said Nidhi Ahuja, a tourist.

The local Nagar Panchayat earns Rs 50,000 per day as passenger tax from thousands of tourists visiting the hill station. Entrance fees for Indians are Rs 10, foreigners Rs 80, students Rs 2 and vehicle entrance fees is Rs 100.

The protesters had submitted a memorandum to the Governor, demanding withdrawal of the notification.

In the government records right from Guru Shikhar, the highest peak of Abu to Taletti, the bottom part of the Abu hill, has been reportedly shown as a sanctuary.

Mount Abu was declared a sanctuary in 1960, but a notification to this effect was issued only in 1997.

The residents are worried that as the notification comes into effect the authorities would ask them to leave the place, or if they were allowed to stay, they would have to face too many restrictions.

The move has been termed as anti-Gujarat by the bordering state since its provisions would effectively bar Gujaratis from owning any property in the Mount Abu area, or carry out commercial activities.

Gujaratis own prime business properties in Mount Abu, and form over 90 per cent of the year-round tourist population.

Rajasthan's Minister for Forest and Environment, Laxmi Narayan Dave said: "You have to give up something to protect the environment". (ANI)

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