Tourists to be restricted in Assam national parks

"The forest department has been asked to prepare a report on how many tourists the Kaziranga National Park can allow," the state's tourism and finance secretary, Himanshu Sekhar Das, said.

Citing the example of Bhutan where tourist flow into forests is strictly monitored, Das said besides Kaziranga, restrictions would be put in place in the next six to seven months in all seven national parks, including Manas Tiger Reserve in Assam.

"If the flow is not restricted, the ecology of the forests will be harmed in the long term. The state government wants to generate revenue without harming the parks and the animals," he said.

In summer, thousands of tourists from across the country visit the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in Assam which are famous for one-horned rhinoceros, elephant, tiger, Indian bison, swamp deer, sambar, sloth bear and hundreds of rare species.

Every morning, 30-40 jeeps as well as elephants take tourists deep into the Kaziranga National Park, which has the world's largest concentration of one-horned rhinos, disturbing the animals.

Moreover, the animals sometimes attack tourists. Last month, a man hailing from Kolkata was attacked and injured by an elephant inside the forest.

Das said the Assam government is preparing a policy to increase tourism revenue without disturbing the wild animals in the national parks.

The tourism secretary said a National Park Circuit involving Manas, Pobitora, Oraon, Kaziranga, Jorhat, Majuli and Shivsagar would be developed and the Centre would provide Rs 50 crore to the state for the purpose.

This project would involve development of tourist facilities to attract foreign tourists, he said.

The state government has also raised a special police force to help tourists, particularly from non-English speaking countries like Japan who face harassment at the hands of shop owners, hoteliers and taxi-drivers.

Police stations in Kaziranga, Manas and Kamakshya have been strengthened to deal with those who harass tourists, he said.

Das said the Centre had provided Rs eight crore to the state government to build tourist infrastructure including a helipad in Haflong and other areas near Jatinga where Siberian birds flock.

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