Assam CM, Sadhguru draw flak for jeep safari inside Kaziranga after sunset
Usually, jeep safaris are allowed inside the park in the early morning hours and in the afternoon when the park is open for tourists
Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and spiritual leader Jagadish Vasudev, popularly known as Sadhguru, drew flak for allegedly undertaking a jeep safari on Saturday inside the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve (KNPTR), a UNESCO world heritage site in Assam, after sunset.
Usually, jeep safaris are allowed inside the park in the early morning hours and in the afternoon when the park is open for tourists.
Conservationists allege that safari after dark is a violation of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and could pose a threat to the rhinos, elephants, tigers and other animals inside the park.
In a video posted by Sarma on Twitter on Saturday, Sadhguru is seen driving a vehicle inside the park with the Assam CM in the front passenger seat and state tourism minister Jayanta Malla Baruah standing at the back. Several other vehicles and security personnel were also seen entering the park.
“Revered Sadhguru, in whose presence Kaziranga National Park opened today for tourists, has a special message to save precious rhinos. And indeed, he enjoyed the jeep safari,” Sarma tweeted.
Sadhguru was in Kaziranga to take part in a three-day Chintan Shivir organised by the state government.
Assam CM, however denied all such allegations.
“There is no violation. According to wildlife law, the warden can give permission to enter a protected area even at night. No law stops people from entering at night. Yesterday, we had the formal opening of the park for this season and now Sadhguru and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar have arrived. Since they have lakhs of followers, this time we expect the tourist season will be very good for Kaziranga,” Sarma told reporters on Sunday night.
Meanwhile, principal chief conservator of forest and chief wildlife warden for Assam, MK Yadava, told news agency ANI that there was a “hidden agenda” behind the allegations against Sarma and Sadhguru to defame KNPTR and people making the accusations aren’t aware of actual facts or tried to know them.
“The guests were invited by us. All arrangements were made and there was no way we could take it back just because it was becoming dark,” Yadava said.
Alleging that the jeep safari has violated provisions of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and threatened wildlife inside KNPTR, two social activists Soneshwar Narah and Probin Pegu have filed a police complaint against Sarma, Sadhguru and Baruah.
“We have received a complaint in this regard and are conducting investigations into it. Since this is a question of violations of guidelines protecting wildlife, the forest department could look into the matter,” Golaghat superintendent of police Ramandeep Kaur said.
Environment activist Rohit Choudhury took to Twitter and stated that the jeep safari could be a violation of Section 27 of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 which is related restrictions on entry in a protected forest area.
“His (Sadhguru’s) act in Kaziranga National Park last night has dismayed us. How come a VVIP has been allowed to drive a Gypsy car deep inside the national park after sunset? In this act, our CM is also an accomplice. Really pathetic,” senior journalist Pranay Bordoloi wrote on Facebook on Sunday.
Director of KNPTR, Jatindra Sarma said that the jeep safari didn’t take place at night. “It was a scheduled programme and was to take place at 3:30pm, but it got a bit delayed,” he said.
Repeated calls to tourism minister Jayanta Malla Baruah and several spokespersons of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failed to elicit any response.
Incidentally, in February 2020, a police complaint was lodged against the wife of the then director of KNPTR, P Sivakumar, for allegedly organising a night safari inside the park.
The allegations were denied by KNPTR authorities and no action was taken.
In July this year, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) had directed the Madhya Pradesh government not to conduct night safaris inside tiger reserves in the state as they were causing hindrance to wild animals.
Besides the jeep safari, there’s also confusion regarding the opening of KNPTR for tourists after the annual monsoon closure.
While CM Sarma tweeted that the park has been opened for tourists, KNPTR officials stated that a formal notification in this regard is yet to be announced.
“A decision on allowing limited entry of tourists to the park will be taken after a visit by the Chief Wildlife Warden. There’s some confusion on the exact date on which it will be opened,” KNPTR director Jatindra Sarma said.
With a population of 2613 (2022 census), KNPTR has the largest population of one-horned rhinos, an endangered species.
According to 2021 figures, there are 121 tigers in KNPTR.