80 held for illegal trek in Antara Gange

Eighty people from Bengaluru were caught illegally entering and camping in the Antara Gange state forest, Kolar district, in the early hours of Sunday. Four representatives of two online booking platforms that had organised the tour have been arrested.

The group was caught by forest patrolmen. Enquiries showed the group had been camping in the forest since Saturday night. Forest officials are not ruling out the involvement of some ground staff.

Y Chakrapani, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Kolar, said the trekkers were led by four representatives of INDdetours and Thrillophilia, the Bengaluru-based online platforms for booking tours and activities. All the four have been booked for trespassing under section 24 of the Karnataka Forest Act. The law provides for six months’ imprisonment, fine or both. Antara Gange, about 60 km east of Bengaluru, is home to many carnivores and herbivores, including sloth bear and leopards.

Forest and police officials recorded the trekkers’ statements and confiscated their ID cards. Some of the trekkers could be underage as they failed to produce proper ID, forest officials said.

Some trekkers defended their actions, saying they called the police when forest guides tried to snatch their mobile phones and wallets.

They produced the proof of booking made through Thrillophilia.

Forest officials are in no mood to spare the organisers or the trekkers. The department wants to set a precedent as it’s not the first time people have gone trekking illegally. Forest records show it’s the sixth such incident by the booking platforms. Previous incidents were reported from Skandagiri, Savandurga, Kunti Betta and Kabbaladurga.

Punati Sridhar, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, said Antara Gange was not yet added to the list of 11 eco-trails introduced by the department and Karnataka Eco-Tourism Development Board last year. Work on adding all the popular trek routes to the list is still underway.

Sridhar asserted that entering any trekking route, apart from the 11 notified eco-trails, is illegal. “We are trying hard to stop illegal trekking. Our vigilance wing is investigating all angles and websites. We are trying to pinpoint the originating point of illegal trekking and crack down on it,” he added. No representative of either firm could be reached for comment.

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