Decision to shut Chitwan hotels kicks up a row

KATHMANDU: Chitwan National Park, that comes under the Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation, an implementing body of Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation, ordered the closure of seven hotels inside the park on July 15, as the permit given to them to run the hotels had expired.

Though Forest Secretary Dr Udaya Raj Sharma had

reservation about extending the term of hotels without a tender process, Forest Minister Deepak Bohora was in favour of the extension. Sharma said, “I will follow the legal process of issuing tenders.”

According to National Park and Wildlife Conservation Regulation 1973, Article 3, national park has the authority to permit any lodge and resort inside the National Park following a tender process but the process was not followed in December 1993 when the permit was issued for 16 years without issuing any tender. The 31-point agreement between National Park and the hotel owners, in possession of The Himalayan Times, clearly states that

if tax to be paid by the hotels is due the National Park can shut the hotels after giving them a six-month warning.

The hotels have not paid the royalty from 2004 to 2007, demanding exemption of tax for the tourism industry during the insurgency period.

An advisory committee headed by present vice-chairman of National Planning Commission Yubraj Khatiwada was formed in 2004 to look into the matter. The committee recommended that the hotel industry should be exempted from paying the tax, if possible, as the tourism industry

was indeed affected during

the insurgency. But Ministry

of Finance decided in 2007

not to provide any exemption to the hotels. Shivaraj Bhatta, spokesperson for DNPWC, said the hotels were not shut earlier as they resumed paying the taxes in 2007.

The owner of Gainda Lodge in Chitwan, Bharat Basnet, said, “We are promoting tourism but government is behaving us as our enemy. We have not done anything wrong or illegal. We only wanted the government to help save the tourism industry. It’s our right and we are fighting for that.”

In fact, it was the National Park which was on the wrong side of law for not issuing tenders before issuing permits to the hoteliers. Before the establishment of DNPWC, Tiger Tops was the first hotel to open inside the National Park. Six more hotels set shop later. None of them came into being following the legal procedure of issuing tenders.

“We are in favour of floating tenders. Only tented camps should be given permission

to run inside the jungle,

while the lodges should be

restricted to the buffer zone area,” said Bhatta. Bohora,

on the other hand, said, “The past agreements were made

on mutual understanding.”

It is learnt that Bohora is

planning to remove the secretary in near future over the

dispute on shutting the hotels.

“Seven hotels inside CNP pay Rs 20 million per year

as tax and more than 1,500

persons are employed here. Who will take the responsibility for the revenue-cut and

the employment loss?” said General Manager of Tiger

Tops Yadav Bantawa. “The decision is totally unfair, as we never violated any rules or norms,” he added.

“Our first priority is conservation then comes the tourism. We are not against the business but we just want to say that it should follow the legal process,” said the spokesperson for MOFSC Annapurnananda Das.

The government has declared 2011 as Nepal Tourism Year and the shutting of hotels will send a negative message across the world.