Thursday, November 26, 2009

Similipal Tiger Reserve remains closed

Express News Service

First Published : 27 Nov 2009 05:03:26 AM ISTLast Updated : 27 Nov 2009 09:36:38 AM IST

BHUBANESWAR: Similipal appears to be nobody’s business. Closed after a series of bloody attacks in March, its reopening is nowhere in sight even as the monsoon closure period is long over.

It is not as if the park is not ready for normal tourist business yet - the local community has a lot at stake because of tourism - it’s the authorities are not just prepared to make a bold move on their own. Forest officials say restoration of tourism would boost confidence of the staff and help the situation get normal sooner than later but for the State Government which is at its noncommittal best. The famous national park closes for monsoon between June 16 and October 31.

But, this year, it had to shut down in March after Maoists struck targeting tourists, the existing facilities and even elephants.

While Special Operation Group (SOG), Orissa Police’s anti-Naxal outfit, did move in and kept guard, it was not possible to put them on job over a longer span. The security forces have since arrested a number of Maoist cadres, including the ones involved in the attacks. However, fear continues to stalk the field staff while procrastination has been the buzzword for the State administration. A curious spate of events in the recent past has showed how Similipal, Orissa’s first Project Tiger area, is a picture of apathy.

Soon after monsoon break was over, a meeting was convened where it was debated if there existed a Naxal threat. While forest officials were for reopening, contrasting views over security and intelligence inputs came in. It was apparently decided that three additional battalions of force will be required for a secure reopening.

While the Similipal Tiger Reserve authorities sent in an official letter to district collector and SP over reopening of the park, district authorities, in turn, marked a copy each to Home Department and Forest Department seeking their approval along with the force requirement.

This seems to have delayed the decision-making because neither the Home Department nor the Forest Department is willing to give a green signal in clear apprehension of any untoward incident in the future. Besides, allocation for three battalions is unlikely to get a go-ahead given the critical scene of Maoist menace in the State. In both events, the park remains closed.

“No one wants to bite on the bullet albeit reopening is in best interest of the park and the people dependent on it. Maoists wanted to make a statement and they have done it successfully. The life must go on,” said an analyst

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