The Forest Department is keen to shift a few temples located inside the Bandipur Tiger Reserve to the forest periphery, in a bid to minimise human disturbance in the wildlife habitat.

This is consequent to the growing popularity of some of the temples inside the tiger reserve among people living on the fringes of the forests who frequent the temples during specific festivals. The heavy pilgrim footfall inside the national park and tiger reserve tends to aggravate the man-animal conflict, but there is also the threat of poachers gaining access to wildlife areas during such gatherings to consider.

Conservator of Forests and Director of Bandipur Tiger Reserve K.C. Kantharaj told The Hindu that the plan to shift a few temples to the periphery was in its preliminary stages.

“There is a provision under the Forest Act to allot land up to a maximum of one acre on the periphery of the forests for relocation. We will make an offer to the village committee to shift the temples in lieu of land to be allocated on the forest boundaries,” said Mr. Kantharaju.

There are six temples inside Bandipur, and authorities plan to shift four of them. The remaining two — at Himmavad Gopalaswamy in Bandipur and Belladakuppe in the Hediyala range — are big temples and cannot be relocated. As a solution, the local community would be asked to tone down the festivities.

Although the Belladakuppe Mahadeshwara temple committee members have been convinced of the need to scale down festivities, it may not happen overnight and hence a constant effort and awareness drive is required, said Mr. Kantharaj. The issue is complex because the temple is patronised not by just one village but dozens of villages in the periphery and hence the consent of all villages should be secured.

But at Himmavad Gopalaswamy temple, the department is keen to bring in a new system in place under which the movement of all private vehicles to the hilltop will be banned. “We will have a parking lot near Hangala or at the base of the hill. Forest Department vehicles will transport pilgrims to the temple and bring them back, thus regulating the crowd,” Mr. Kantharaj added.

Unlike other temples inside Bandipur, where pilgrims come only on a particular day of a season, the Belladakuppe Mahadeshwara temple attracts people every Monday. There was also a dargah in the Gundre range and another temple at Dodda Bargi in Maddur range, both of which draw significant crowd and pose a threat to wildlife. The scenario in the adjoining Nagarahole National Park is no different; it harbours over 40 places of worship, according to P.M. Muthanna, Assistant Director, Wildlife Conservation Society, India Programme, who added that efforts to relocate places of worship should also be undertaken at Nagarahole.

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