Illegal tourism thrives at Dandeli

Illegal tourism thrives at Dandeli

Plaints go unheard due to jurisdictional issues; vigil heightened in area

The lynching of assistant conservator of forests (ACF) Madan H Naik by a group of tourists on Monday has exposed the ugly underbelly of illegal tourism at Dandeli in Karwar.

Shivaram Patil, who runs a homestay collects money from tourists to show them crocodiles.  DH Photo/Rohan Bhate

Many people had complained of illegal tourism and wildlife trade being run by a farmer residing near Dandeliappa temple where the ACF was killed when he objected to tourists feeding crocodiles on the banks of River Kali.

However, no action had been taken due to “jurisdictional problems” and “communication gap” between the wildlife and territorial divisions of the Forest Department.

Encroachment of forest, illegal tourism and sale of baby crocodiles and eggs flourish at Dandeli under the nose of the law-enforcing authorities. Though several complaints were lodged against the owner of ‘crocodile valley,’ the Dandeli wildlife sanctuary took no action against the owner because of jurisdictional issues.

“We complained to the Forest Department several times about such activities, but to no avail,” said Rohan Bhate, a wildlife activist from Maharastra, who runs Creative Nature Friends, an NGO, at Karad in Satara district.

Bhate, a regular visitor to Dandeli, claimed that Shivaram Patil, who owns a farm along the downstream of a canal connecting the West Coast Paper Mills, was collecting money from tourists to show them crocodiles which have made a part of the river stretch their home.

“The reptiles, which number  15-20, are visible only from Patil’s farm. They breed there and he even sells baby crocodiles to tourists. We had rescued one of them in 2009. It was brought by a person to Karad. We released it in Chandoli National Park,” said Bhate.

Patil refutes charges

When Deccan Herald contacted Patil, he denied the charges saying he had permission from former DCF B B Mallesh and the Tourism Department to entertain tourists.
 He also denied he sold young crocodiles and their eggs.

However, former DCF Mallesh told Deccan Herald, “We cannot give permission to any private person (for such activities). If what he says is true, let him furnish the letter of permission. In fact, our territorial RFO had booked a case against him in 2011 and he is out on bail.”

Bhate, who has been active in tiger conservation in the Sahyadri reserve in Maharastra, alleged that apart from collecting ‘entry fee’, Patil had been selling the eggs of the reptiles for anywhere between Rs 100 and Rs 500 a piece.

 “We can see (crocodile) eggs lying all along his farm. We had even brought the matter to the notice of RFO Kulagi in 2009, but nothing much happened,” he said.

The Forest Department too is aware of Patil’s activities. “It is an open secret that crocodile tourism is being operated illegally at Dandeli. The several complaints lodged against him by tourists come under the Dandeli wildlife division jurisdiction.

Since the area (Patil’s farm) comes under the Haliyal territorial division, which is 12-15 km away, nothing much could be done by us,” said a forest staffer. “Our role here is restricted to informing the authorities concerned (about illegal tourism), because complaints are lodged here by most of the tourists,” he added. The Forest Department alleged that Patil had encroached upon forest land to cater to “his tourism”.

Action taken

The Forest Department finally woke up to the menace of tourists feeding crocodile by increasing vigil near Dandelappa temple.

Speaking to Deccan Herald, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden Deepak Sharma said armed guards would be stationed at the place to ensure such incidents do not recur.

He said he had already spoken to the chief conservator of forests of the region and the latter has briefed him on the development. “He has assured me that adequate security measures will be taken to ensure such incidents do not occur in future,” he said.

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