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Rana Muhammad Masud

The Report

Policy for controlling excessive Sundarbans travels

2016-02-06 18:50:33
Policy for controlling excessive Sundarbans travels

The government has finally readied a policy for controlling excessive travels through the Sundarbans. The ‘Sundarbans Travel Policy’ aims to ensure protection of the heritage and biodiversity of the mangrove forest and provide protection to tourists there.

The policy stipulates what to do by the tourists, tour operators and the forest department in the case of tourism in the Sundarbans.

According to the policy, any person seeking to tour the Sundarbans must take permission from the forest department three days before embarking on the journey. A launch or any other vessel measuring not more than 50 metres will be allowed to enter the Sundarbans with tourists aboard. Not more than 150 persons will be allowed aboard a launch by day and 75 persons at night. Besides, no unfit launch will be allowed to enter the World Heritage Site.

The policy also stipulates cancellation of the permission for any launch or vessel to enter the Sundarbans or a fine for flouting any condition.

Forest Department’s chief forest conservator Md Yunus Ali told The Report, “In January the gazette on the Sundarbans Travel Policy was issued. The policy has focused on keeping the habitat of the wildlife undisturbed and keeping its environment pollution-free during any travel of the tourists.”

He also said, “Not that the policy is limiting travels to the Sundarbans. Rather, everything has been brought under a system. Anybody can travel there by complying with the policy.”

The policy says the number of tourists in the mangrove forest is increasing. Unplanned and sudden tours to the Sundarbans are leaving the tourists insecure and the environment there is being disturbed.

According to statistics of the forest department, in 1959 the number of trees in the Sundarbans was 296 per hectare. In 1996 the number declined to 144. The sound of different vessels plying the Sundarbans, their light at night and search lights are disturbing the natural habitats of the wildlife. So, the number of tigers, deer and other species of wildlife is declining day by day.

According to the Forest Department’s information, the government in an order in 1878 declared the Sundarbans a protected forest area. The Sundarbans along the coast covers a vast area of Khulna, Satkhira, Bagerhat, Patuakhali and Barguna districts. The Sundarbans is the largest forest area and the largest mangrove forest of the world in the saline water along a coastal area. Of the 10,000 sq. kilometres of the Sundarbans, 6,017 kilometres are in Bangladesh.

In 1992 the whole Sundarbans was declared a Ramsa site (a worldwide initiative to protect biodiversity emanating from Iran’s Ramsa. In 1997 it got the UNESCO recognition as the world heritage site.

The policy says no vessel carrying tourists will be allowed inside the Sundarbans without updated fitness certificates from the department dealing with ocean-going ships and permission from the BIWTA.

The policy also says travels to the Sundarbans will be allowed on a limited scale in a controlled way in line with the objective of keeping the Sundarbans management intact. The tourists must pay a certain amount of fee fixed by the government for traveling the Sundarbans. The permission must be taken from the forest officer concerned three days before embarking on the journey. But in the case of foreign tourists the deputy commissioner concerned and the law-enforcing agencies must be informed.

For spending night and traveling in the Sundarbans outside the tourist resorts like those at Karamjal, Munshiganj and others bordering the forest, the prior permission of the divisional forest officer will be needed. The policy mentions that the number of tourists will be limited to the capacity of any area of the forest.

During traveling the forest the existing forest law, wildlife law, different rules and instructions of the forest officials must be followed. No tourist will be allowed to disembark, move or stay anywhere at anytime. No equipment for catching fish or any wild animal, no firearm, sharp weapon, trap, poison etc will be allowed inside.

During the travel no instrument like any mike or microphone will be allowed. The policy stipulates designated routes for the launches to ply with tourists aboard.

At best a double-decker launch or vessel measuring not more than 50 metres will be allowed inside the Sundarbans with tourists aboard. Besides, a vessel will be allowed to carry highest 150 tourists by day and 75 at night.

Any tourist launch or vessel will be allowed to stay in the Sundarbans for maximum four nights and five days. For the purpose of any research one can stay inside the Sundarbans for a minimum period of time required.

According to the policy, one needs to pay a certain amount of entry fee fixed by the government for visiting a sanctuary. If one needs to stay there longer than the time fixed, one must inform the nearby forest officer and justify the stay there and also pay the additional amount of fee. The stay must not be longer than the maximum time allowed.

When inside the Sundarbans, one must not discard anything on the land or in the water and the vessel must be kept clean.

In the case of travel by students on payment of fees at a reduced rate, the chief of the educational institution must apply to the forest officer concerned on the institution’s own pad with a list of the students attached and take the permission. There will be at least one teacher allowed as the guardian for every 30 students.

Stepping into the water in the sea, river or canal in the forest area or taking bath there or swimming is prohibited. Everybody must abstain himself from doing anything that could frighten the animals, threaten their existence or the biodiversity.

No vessel having the normal sound limit will be allowed to carry any tourists. Besides, any faulty vessels emitting black smoke will also not be allowed. The vessels will be encouraged to use solar energy while the use of any generator producing sound will be prohibited.

Without any permission no live animals like cow, goat, buffalo or sheep or their meat or any red meat will be allowed aboard the vessel. Every tourist vessel must have at least a trained tour guide and there must be two tour guides for the number of tourists exceeding 40.

The authority must decide on the application for touring the Sundarbans within 24 hours of receipt of it. The forest department must display the charts of the travel fees, vessel registration fees and other types of fees at the divisional office and at the entrance for the tourists.

The policy also says the divisional forest officer must take action against any forest employee within seven days of receiving an allegation of any misconduct with the tourists.

Ends/thereport24/RA/Feb 5, 2016

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