It’s a place that’s touted as a real escape from the maddening city crowds and a must-see on every tourist’s travel itinerary. But yesterday, visitors and tourists flocking to one of the main attractions at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) — the lion and tiger safari — were leaving the park distressed, as they endured a day of turmoil.
Over 500 visitors, including foreign tourists, had to stand for long-hours in a queue, as only one bus was operating in the park. Hapless visitors said that park authorities should expect huge crowds, as summer vacations are on, and should have been well prepared. Although, park authorities pressed another bus into service after MiD DAY intervened by contacting Deepak Sawant, Assistant Conservator of Forest and Superintendent, Tiger and Lion Safari, the damage was already done with some visitors vowing to never return to the park. However, even thereafter the line moved at snail’s pace, as the two buses were insufficient to accommodate the huge crowd that had gathered by then. Moreover, the ticket counter shut at 12.30 pm and only re-opened at 2 pm, thus forcing visitors to wait for their turn under the scorching sun.
The mayhem began at 9 am when hundreds of eager visitors had lined up at the ticketing counter. But the counter opened half-an-hour late, instead of the normal time. As minutes passed, the crowds only swelled. To add to the misery of the crowd, there was only one bus, with a carrying capacity of 15 passengers, which was being operated for a 30-minute safari ride inside the park. Thus, even one-and-a-half hour later, merely 120 tourists had taken the safari ride.
One bus only
I S Thakur, in-charge, Van Park, SGNP, said, “The two buses that are used in the safari ride were sent to replenish fuel yesterday morning. That’s when one of the drivers’ realised that his bus needed repairs owing to a technical snag. Hence, only one bus was left for plying.” However, even the other bus arrived late, thereby delaying the safari schedule. Dattatray Kharatmal, forest guard, who was in-charge of the ticketing counter said, “I could not issue the tickets at 9 am, as the bus didn’t arrive. When the bus turned up at 9.15 am, the first round of tickets were issued at 9.30 am.”
Wildlife enthusiasts claimed that SGNP authorities did not deploy sufficient staff to communicate to the tourists about the paucity of bus services. Thus, leaving hundreds in the lurch with no clue of what was happening. Anita Jain, (34), a housewife who came from Lalbaug, said, “My 12-year-old son, who is handicapped, and I have been waiting here for one-and-a-half hours now to board the safari bus. In case of such indefinite delays, it is the elderly and the handicapped that suffer the most. My son is sitting in a wheelchair, with his spine belt and leg-callipers, just hoping to board the safari bus.” While Madhunil Oak (36), housewife, who came from Dombivali and was standing for an hour said, “I told my kids that they would be seeing a tiger or lion today. However, our number has still not come and the children have started crying.”
A group of foreign tourists on a business trip to India were also victims of the inordinate delay at the park. Andy Basargian (42), a Russian national, said, “We had a tight business schedule. But, we took some time out to come to the national park, as we eagerly wanted to go for the safari ride. However, we were stuck in the queue for over 40 minutes. The authorities must deploy more buses or run buses with more passenger capacity. In case of such inordinate delays, proper seating arrangements with sun-roofs must be provided for the people.”
Despite several calls and messages to Deepak Sawant, Assistant Conservator of Forest and Superintendent, Tiger and Lion Safari about why there was sheer mismanagement on the part of SGNP, he remained unavailable for comment. The SGNP authorities claimed that before the ticketing counters closed at 12.30 pm, they arranged for two extra safari buses for tourists. They also claimed that they accommodated all the stranded tourists later in the day for the safari ride.