Mushrooming homestays in villages close to the forests in Sakleshpur taluk has become a cause of worry for the Forest Department. The department fears that unauthorised homestays are encouraging illegal activities in the forest areas.
Many people have turned their residents in the taluks into homestays, but only a few of them are recognised by the Tourism Department.
The Karnataka Government promotes homestays in the name Athithi programme in its Tourism Policy 2009-14. According to the policy, a house with minimum two rooms and maximum of five rooms can be converted into a homestay. So far, the Tourism Department has recognised only five homestays in Sakleshpur taluk. But the number of unrecognised ones is at least five times the figure.
The department has categorised homestays as gold, silver and bronze depending on the facilities offered. All the homestays recognised in Sakleshpur belong to silver category under which charges vary from Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 per person a day. However, the unrecognised ones charge heavy and offer special services such as trekking in the forests.
Last week a BE student from Bangalore died after drowning in a falls in Kabbinale reserve forest area. Fifteen days ago, an unidentified body was found in the limits of Sakleshpur Town police limits. So far, the police have not cracked the case.
The Forest Department is worried that the homestays located close to forest areas offer packages, including trekking. But they do not obtain permission from the Forest Department to take visitors into the reserve forest areas. Range Forest Officer T.A. Ratnaprabha said many homestays send their customers along with local youths as guides for trekking. “Many people from Bangalore and other cities visit Sakleshpur to have fun in the forests. Forest is not a place to have fun. I have written to officers of Revenue Department and police to take action against unauthorised homestays. If something unexpected happens in the forests, we are held responsible,” she said.
The recognised homestays keep records of visitors and they are also bound by regulations. B.S. Chirag had been running Swarga, a recognised homestay at Kumbarahalli in Sakleshpur taluk.
“There are many homestays without recognition. They do not follow any norms. Their interest is only to make money. In our homestay we allow trekking only in our coffee estate, not forests”, he said.
Homestays have to pay a regular fee to the Tourism Department. Those in the silver category pay Rs. 20,000 a year. An owner of a recognised homestay alleged that his business had been affected because of unauthorised ones. He alleged that the owners of such homestays continue their business by keeping the officers concerned in “good books”.