BENGALURU: A commercial tourist resort that has been operating without forest, wildlife or environmental clearances near Chikale village in Khanapur taluk of Belagavi district, faces eviction by the authorities. The resort owner, who claims it is a homestay, ironically has constructed new luxury structures like cottages, swimming pool, etc.
The Soutira Mini-Water Park and Resort is located within the Kanakumbi Territorial Range of Belagavi Forest Division, which is part of the proposed eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary.
The resort is surrounded by pristine forests on all sides which is an important wildlife habitat for tigers and other species. The resort area is a link between this sanctuary and protected areas of Goa and is also a part of a larger tiger landscape.
Initiating action against the resort owner, the Forest Department has sent a series of notices from December 2015 to May 2016, but the resort continues to operate blatantly. The notice says, “The establishment of commercial hotels and resorts is strictly regulated within the ESZ of Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary as on the date of draft notification. Further, the boundary of this Sanctuary is within 2 km from the resort.”
Speaking to Express, DCF, Belagavi Division, Basavaraj Patil said, “We have asked them to produce all documents of permission, which they have failed to do. The only document they have produced is an no-objection certificate from the Parawad gram panchayat, dated September 2015, for running a homestay. I have instructed the RFO concerned to take legal action and also requested the Belagavi DC to take action and evict them immediately.” The Belagavi DC was not available for comments.
As per documents obtained through RTI and available with Express, the resort owner has not obtained necessary permission from both the Forest Department and the National Board for Wildlife to construct a commercial resort within the ESZ.
Manjunath, a wildlife activist from Belagavi, questioned, “If this was a homestay and not a resort, then why do they have a fancy swimming pool, luxury cottages and a mini water park?”
‘Forest department is misguided’
Claiming that they were just running a homestay, Rahul of Soutira Resort told Express that their facility does not fall within the ESZ. “We have permission from the Tourism Department for a homestay and the Forest Department is misguided about our location.”
Not convinced of their intentions, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) has issued two notices to the resort owner for setting up a water park and not obtaining prior permission from them. As per the notice, they have recommended action under Air and Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Acts to seize the unit and close down the resort as the owner had failed to get valid ‘Consent for Establishment’ and ‘Consent For Operation’ from the Board.
Manjunath concludes, “How much time does the DC need to take action? There is an immediate necessity for intervention by senior officials to shut down this resort which is affecting wildlife and their movement.”