City anchor: Pune tourist locations to get local villagers as guides of forests

As part of tourism initiative, the forest department has decided to employ local villagers as guides. And to this effect, villagers of Baneshwar will hold a gram panchayat on January 26 to discuss the issue of employment of local villagers with the forest department.

"It is best to employ local villagers as they are the friends of the forests and would help in keeping the area intact and promoting tourism,'' said Chief Conservator of Forests, Pune region, Nitin Kakodkar.

A recent meeting of the forest department highlighted that signage and message boards on saving forests were not enough and that people were needed to guard them. "What best than to rope in local villagers to protect and conserve forests as it would also help villagers make a living out of it," said Kakodkar, who has started such initiatives at various tourist locations in Pune. "We have a similar initiative at Karla, Atwan, Rajmachi and Raireshwar,'' he added.

Giving people a direct stake in the protection of their forests would give them a sense of ownership, he said.

Besides Pune, the initiatives would be mooted for other forests in the state. With just 8,500 forest guards to protect the 61,000 square kilometres of forest being inadequate, using the local pool would be in the best interest of the localites as well as for the department.

Besides implementing existing schemes in villages, residents in more than 2,000 villages across the state have been given forest rights and are helping in the conservation effort while also supplementing their income through eco-friendly means. The forest department had initiated recruitment of over 1,500 forest guard positions last year, all from local villages itself. "The gram panchayat decides on electing the members who would be recruited with the forest department,'' said a forest official.

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