All checks in place

With two lakh people expected to visit Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) on Mahashivratri on Monday, February 20, the forest department has twin daunting tasks of controlling crowds and preventing forest fires

Hordes of devotees and pilgrims will flock to Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) at Borivli (E) and the age-old Tungareshwar Shiv temple on Mahashivratri on Monday, February 20. An estimated two lakh people are expected to visit SGNP.  Every year the number keeps increasing, say forest officials. After the festivities, volunteers and authorities have the daunting task of clearing plastic bags, thermocol plates, and heaps of trash littered all across SGNP, the city's largest green lung spread over 104 sq km. But forest fires constitute a major threat to SGNP as forests there are mostly dry and deciduous.

VISIT: Devotees at Kanheri caves during Mahashivratri. FILE PIC

"Our major concern is forest fires which can destroy acres of forest land. Even a matchstick is enough to cause a huge forest fire," said Chief Conservator of Forest and Director of SGNP, Sunil Limaye. Limaye added, "There are various religious structures inside the national park. On February 19, we will allow workers to carry portable cylinders and other items to temples, so that they can prepare food for the devotees within the temple premises.

But from 20th morning, the day of Mahashivratri, we will not allow people to carry inflammable materials with them. Even if anybody is found lighting a cigarette in the forest area, he /she will be immediately prosecuted and can face up to three years of imprisonment." In addition to this, "there will be 115 forest guards, 10 foresters, 6 range officers, 2 assistant conservators, who will be stationed at various points, to keep a vigil. Along with this we will have 100 policemen, 100 homeguards and close to 150 volunteers to control the crowd and make sure that everything goes on smoothly. Officials from the Archaeological Society of India (ASI) will be stationed at Kanheri caves, which see a large number of visitors on this day."

Krishna Tiwari from BNHS added, "The famous Kanheri caves are a rich part of our heritage and ASI officials will ensure that no damage is done. Sometimes people scribble and lean against the structures in the caves. This can cause permanent damage." "Apart from this, we will have officials from the fire department and BMC too. There will be no private vehicles allowed in the area. Some 30-40 BEST buses will be allowed inside," said Limaye.

OCCASION: Mahashivratri celebrations at Tungareshwar sanctuary

Tiwari explained, "On a normal day, BEST buses are not allowed in the park, whereas private vehicles are allowed. On Mahashivratri, private vehicles will not be allowed inside. Nobody will be allowed to walk on that day, there will be BEST buses at various entrance points. People will have to move around in BEST buses. At entry points, people will be checked to ensure that they are not carrying any inflammable material with them. No-one will be allowed to venture in the forest area. In Tungareshwar especially there are many lost and found cases. All these have to be taken care of."

In a meeting held between volunteers, forest officials and members of Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) at the Nature Information Centre (NIC) at SGNP recently, a plan for Mahashivratri was chalked out. While various strategies were discussed to keep a check on the number of people, volunteers also got an opportunity to voice their concerns. Said Tejal Vishweshwar one of the volunteers from Borivli, "The forest department should have a list of volunteers and inform us about meetings held before Mahashivratri. This will help volunteers to take part in various discussions before the event. Sometimes volunteers are not even aware of the meetings that are held before Mahashivratri. The forest department should be more proactive in this regard.

MEASURES: Director, SGNP, Sunil Limaye (from left) at a
meeting held for Mahashivratri. PIC/NIMESH DAVE

Also, as volunteers there are some practical problems we face while controlling the crowd. Most of the time there is no cell phone coverage inside the forest. So we suggest that volunteers and forest guards should move around the area to take stock of the situation.

Only then can volunteers and forest officials effectively communicate with each other." Vishweshwar, a graphic designer by profession, has been working as a volunteer during Mahashivratri for almost six years now. "A more coordinated effort between various parties concerned and volunteers will definitely help," said Vishweshwar who will be stationed at Ramnagar Yeoor range of SGNP (Thane Mulund area).

While officials will be posted at various entry points in and around the park there are various illegal entry points through which people enter the park. SGNP can be divided into two ranges �the Yeoor range and Borivli National Park. There are six temples and ashrams towards the eastern side of SGNP and two in Tungareshwar sanctuary. 

Source: City forests �BNHS

"The boundary around SGNP is porous. A lot of people try and enter from various sides, especially from the Thane Yeoor side. There are also a lot of religious structures within the park and most of them them are illegal.

On religious occasions, there is a huge influx of people who want to visit various religious spots within SGNP," said Krishna Tiwari from the BNHS. Major attractions, say officials, are religious structures, which have sprung up within the protected area (see city forest report 2006-2007). The forest department has failed to demolish illegal hutments and structures, which have sprung up within the protected area. Limaye explained, "We will try our best to get rid of illegal structures. Many of these are religious structures and demolishing them can hurt religious sentiments. So we have to be careful."

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