Minister for allowing hotels, resorts to operate in CNP

KATHMANDU: Members of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) today suggested that the five hotels and resorts inside the World Heritage site of Chitwan National Park (CNP) should be relocated elsewhere as their contract period already expired in mid-July.

The five hotels and resorts inside the CNP and two others in the adjacent areas are yet to clear outstanding fines amounting to Rs 19.2 million to the government.

Minister for Forest and Soil Conservation, Dipak Bohara, and secretary at the ministry Dr Udayaraj Sharma were invited at the meeting for discussions on the same today. Minister Bohara said that the hotels would let run their business as the closure might take toll on tourism industry.

The hotels and resorts have been shut down since July 15.

According to the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, 2029 BS, and related regulations, any kind of services to be provided inside a park or a reserve needs to be selected through a competitive bidding.

But these hotels were given permission to operate inside the CNP in 1993 without following any bidding process. After their 15-year contract expired in mid-July, the MoFSC asked the hotel operators to shut them down.

A review report prepared by a six-member team led by Madhav Prasad Acharya, chief, Monitoring and Evaluation Division, MoFSC, last year had recommended relocation of the hotels from inside the CNP. The team also found that the hotels inside the CNP had caused negative impact on biodiversity and wildlife habitat. It recommended only the tent camps to be suitable inside the park.

Mahendra Dwoj G C, a NC lawmaker from Nawalparasi constituency-2 — the district bordering the CNP — observed that there had been serious negative impacts on the biodiversity and wildlife habitat due to the presence and activities of people in the hotels. “Poaching of the one-horned rhinos is on the rise and no mastermind has been booked,” he said.

Other lawmakers — Rabindra Adhikari, Keshav Nepal, Bishwo Bhakta Dulal “Ahuti,” Narayani Ghimire, Sunita Sah, Anil Kumar Jha and Dip Kumar Upadhyaya — also echoed similar views. They insisted that it was not appropriate to renew the contract just for revenues.

“There won’t be any negative impact in the revenue collection even if they are relocated outside of the CNP. Most of the other hotels outside the park are also doing a fairly good business,” said G C.

Minister Bohara, however, argued that the hotels inside the CNP would not pose any threat to the biodiversity and habitat of the wildlife.

He said around 15 tourism associations had also called for allowing the hotels to continue their businesses as the Visit Year Nepal 2011 was approaching. “If the hotels are asked to close their shutters, there will be negative impact on tourism industry,” he said.

“The hotels and resorts inside the CNP are renowned in Asia for jungle safari,” Bohara said.

Bohara had proposed to renew the contract of those hotels at a recent Cabinet meeting. Subsequently, the Cabinet formed a team, led by the Finance Minister Surendra Pandey to look into the issue.

GC claimed that the people living close to the buffer zone were also in favour of relocating those hotels outside the park.

Outstanding tax

Hotels/Lodge/Resort Dues of fine to Govt (Rs.)

• Tiger Tops 3,311,084

• Chitwan Jungle Lodge 467,754

• Gaida wildlife (outside CNP) 8,593,215

• Machan wildlife 5,640,443

• Temple Tiger 213,308

• Narayani Safari (Outside CNP) 360,003

• Island Jungle Resort 642,267

Total 19,228,077

‘We didn’t pay as we’re exempted from tax’

Kathmandu: Bharat Basnet, owner of Rhino Wildlife Camp, who is among the hotel proprietors not paying the tax, said, “We have got the exemption from the government as a war affected industry so we don’t have any obligation to pay the amount.” However, the government has not decided to give the exemption of the tax to hotels. After the suggestion of the Khatiwada Commission in 2004, necessary processes were initiated to this effect but the government decided not to provide the exemption in 2008. The General Manager of Tiger Tops, Yadav Bantawa says, “There was a dealing about exemption of the fine with the authorities while paying the conservation and general tax, so we left to pay the fine. If they decide then we are ready to pay the fine too.”

According to him, the matter is not of paying and the hotels were not closed because of delay in payment but due to expiry of the contract. “The government presented us as a fraud which is really not justifiable,” said Bantawa claiming that he had cleared all the tax. “All hotels should not be portrayed as such just due to a few hotels who are denying paying.” — HNS