It is obvious that the more tourists visit a place, the more its ecological balance may be threatened or degraded. The world’s largest mangrove forest is no exception. Although every year the country earns revenues in bulk from the tourist hotspot, facilities needed for trippers have not been developed as such, causing them to suffer from numerous troubles, including of transportation inside the forest.
JM Kochi, coordinator of the Tour Operators’ Association of the Sundarbans, alleged that the major problems derived from negligence of the forest department, employees of which charged for services according to their whims and fancies.
The owner of Evergreen Tours, Kochi also alleged: “Here it is common for forest officials not to give receipts for payments so they can avoid depositing the money in the state exchequer, thus filching it.
“Forest officials in Harbaria are obsessed with money so much so that they understand nothing but it. You will be fleeced and made to suffer if you approach them for a receipt after making your payment.”
Referring to an incident of a forest guard’s falling back in horror seeing a tiger in December last year, Kochi said the guards were neither physically nor psychologically capable of discharging their duties.
“Tourists undergo a lot of sufferings at Hiron Point when getting on and off launches as its pontoon bridges are on their last legs,” said Md Masud Karim, a launch master, adding: “Step treads installed into a riverbank at Kachikhali are of no use.”
There is a lack of adequate number of armed guards in the launches, most of which do not have lights and lifebuoys. Whatever small amounts of safety harnesses the other launches have are at so low ebb that they will come to naught during a capsizal.
When talking to the Dhaka Tribune, railway official Pradip Kumar said during his recent visit to the Unesco World Heritage Site, he found a footbridge at Kotka broken and a wooden passage at Koromjal in a state of dilapidation.
“Rest houses between Hiron Point and Alokol are not adequate to meet the tourists’ demands. Security measures in the area are not satisfactory either,” he said.
Launches are faced with navigability problems at Hiron Point, said Evergreen Tours’ guide Saleh Al Mamun Chanchal, adding: “Because the designated spots lack their own jetties, it takes people several hours to pass a long way by yachts from coasts down the river to get on the launches.
“Watchtower at Harbaria has been closed down and the one at Hiron Point useless.”
However, divisional forest officer of the Sundarbans (west zone) Md Syed Ali said vacationers and tour operators were no less responsible for the forest’s degrading ecology.
He added: “Even though indiscriminate dumping of garbage is strictly prohibited, tourists are littering every corner of the forest with massive amounts of waste materials, such as bottles, cans and wrappers.
“Noise pollution from launches is adversely affecting a range of wild animals across multiple habitats. They are also frightened by banging sounds emanating from audio-visual systems carried by trippers to the forest.”
Ali said during this season they had realised Tk42,100 in fine from a total of 42 people for breaching the laws in his zone.
“There are patrolling teams to check unlawful activities. In addition, we have initiated a computerised patrolling system and stepped up our campaign to raise awareness about its conservation,” he added.