New Delhi: Corbett Tiger Reserve authorities have decided that they will not entertain references from VIPs requesting accommodation and safari facilities either for themselves or for their relatives and friends, and instead report these requests to their higher authorities.
The move comes as the Corbett administration has been receiving a large number of communications, through explicit displays of official positions, for arranging safaris, accommodation, and other private arrangements of various highly placed authorities, for what is otherwise a purely personal activity and has nothing to do with the discharge of any official duties.
On many occasions, even friends of officials in power have been referred to the authorities at Corbett and sometimes the matter has been pursued in a coercive or intimidating manner.
A recent official order says that this is nothing but brazen abuse of official position for seeking personal favours. "Such practices also put stress on an already overburdened administration, the primary duties of which are habitat management and protection work," it said.
"Therefore, in accordance with constitutional principles, orders of the Supreme Court and other relevant rules and notifications in this regard, it is hereby ordered that any communication received through use of official positions, except for those entitled, in any manner, for the said purpose will not be entertained at all, by any of the officials posted in the Corbett Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand", the order said.
Rules framed by the Uttarakhand government regarding state guests allow very few constitutional functionaries like the President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India, Lok Sabha speaker, among others to avail such facilities.
Sanjiv Chaturvedi, director of the Corbett Tiger Reserve, says in the order that in the future, such requests will not be taken cognizance of, and shall be referred back to the concerned official.
He said that the Right to Equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution, is one of the bedrocks of a democratic polity."However, over the years, a 'VIP culture' has crept into our polity, where persons occupying influential positions, have started using their official position and powers to create a distinct class for themselves, using their privilege to make undue claims over public resources, for purposes which have nothing to do with the discharge of their official duties,".
This VIP culture, which is anathema to the cherished principles of equality and fraternity, has created distortions in systems of governance and caused public resentment, he said, citing a central government decision on prohibiting the use of red beacons on official vehicles.
Wildlife activist Ajay Dubey, who had got a Supreme Court order in 2012 on banning tourism in the core areas of tiger reserves, welcomes this move by Corbett authorities. "It is a welcome step. Tourism in core and other areas frequented by wild animals has a negative effect on wildlife. I expect other tiger reserves and national park authorities to take a cue from Corbett authorities and stop this abuse of VIP power," he said. Dubey said any reduction in VIP references of stay and other facilities will help forest staff to invest more time in taking care of wild animals rather than of those in power.
The Corbett park is the first national park of India established in 1936. It was then named Hailey National Park. In 1957, it was rechristened as the Corbett National Park in the memory of late Jim Corbett, the great naturalist and eminent conservationist.
The park, which is spread across an area of around 1,200 sq.kms, is situated at the foothills of the Himalayas. There are an estimated 340 tigers in Uttarakhand, according to a 2014 census of the big cats.
Uttarakhand has three tiger reserves -- Corbett National Park (or tiger reserve), Rajaji Tiger Reserve and Kalagarh Tiger Reserve.