BANDIPUR NATIONAL PARK, Karnataka, India – There are growing concerns over unregulated crowds disturbing wildlife at Himavad Gopalaswamy Betta, which is part of the core area of the Bandipur Tiger Reserve.
Its popularity among locals and tourists is putting immense pressure on the landscape, which has a limited carrying capacity to start with. Though the Chief Conservator of Forests (Project Tiger) issued guidelines in 2011 to minimise disturbance to the forest area, they have not been implemented.
The guidelines stipulate a visitor entry time window from 8.30 a.m. to 4 p.m. They also provide a maximum of one hour and 30 minutes for a visit, and a ‘first in, first out’ policy. But activists are concerned that the guidelines have not been implemented still.
According to sources, the current practice of operating KSRTC buses through the tiger reserve defeats all the objectives of the order, as buses heading towards Himavad Gopalaswamy temple are packed beyond capacity till early noon and those returning in this period are almost empty. The pattern reverses post noon.
“Many of the buses start the trip from Gundlupet and are full by the time they reach the check post. This has weakened the checking there,” an activist told The Hindu on condition of anonymity.
The cumulative effect of this practice is that all the visitors converge in the temple area from around 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., meaning they spend more than four to five hours inside Gopalaswamy Betta, when they are not supposed to spend more than one-and-a-half hours as per the Chief Conservator Forests’ order. The lone guard there can do little to prevent trespassing into the forest area and littering. During Dasara last year, an unruly mob assaulted forest staff here.
Incidentally, the authorities had procured five mini buses for shuttle services to Gopalaswamy Betta, but they have been diverted for safari purposes.
This has left the KSRTC to ferry visitors to the temple at the hilltop and back, and their drivers are least sensitive about wildlife and the laws governing it.