Bengaluru: “Night trek around Bengaluru. You should give it a try.” This message on a Facebook group is what lured 20-year-old Sannidhi Verma (name changed), a techie, and her six friends to explore the Savandurga hillock, west of Bengaluru, in the darkness of the night. The group paid the required fee to the organizer and followed his instructions to reach the base camp at the foothill of Savandurga on the midnight of May 7. However, little did Sannidhi and her friends know that their adventure would land them in police custody.

Not only was their vehicle seized by the forest department, they were let off only after the trip organizer was summoned and penalized Rs 10,000. Sannidhi and her friends were kept in the dark about the fact that night trek to the hillock is banned as it falls under the jurisdiction of a reserved forest. The youngsters on their part too had failed to do their homework.

Confirming the incident, D Manjunath, deputy conservator of forests, Ramanagara, said as per Section 26 1(d) of Indian Forest Act, 1927, any kind of tresspassing is prohibited. “Night trek is banned there. Even during the day, no trekker is allowed to enter the forest without the permission of the department. An FIR has been registered against the trek organizer and he has been penalized,” said Manjunath.

KNOW THE RLUES

Environmentalists and wildlife enthusiasts say the Savandurga incident should be an eye-opener for trekkers who often fail to crosscheck the laws before setting out on such adventures.

“FB groups and other forums offering night treks are proliferating, where enthusiastic youngsters are often misled. One should know about the legal status of forests before venturing into them. For instance, if it’s a reserved forest or a National Park. Often organizations misguide participants, saying they have approval from the forest department to organize such treks. It’s always advisable for trekkers to seek permission from the department before hitting the trail,” said Tejus RS, a wildlife enthusiast.

Mahendra R, a wildlife activist, said heading to hillocks in reserved forests can not only have an adverse affect on wildlife but can also prove deadly for trekkers. “Some time ago, there was a report of a person being killed by an elephant in Bannerghatta National Park. The man had illegally entered into the woods. Antharagange in Kolar, Kunti Betta in Mandya and Kauravatunda in Chikkaballapur are some hillocks that draw trekkers regularly,” he added.

PUT UP SIGN-BOARDS

Lakshminarayan V of Backpackers, a trekking group, finds no harm in night treks if members follow rules of the forest. “However, if there’s a ban on night trek, as an organizer I shouldn’t mislead the trekking enthusiasts. At the same time, the forest department should put up sign-boards about the legal status of that particular forest. It’s all about creating awareness,” he added.

Lakshminarayan says even individual trekkers should keep in mind the ‘safety first’ formula and understand that he or she may not even get a second chance to venture out if something goes wrong.

WHY HILLOCKS ARE KEPT OUT OF REACH

* Vehicular movement leave wild animals vulnerable, especially snakes

* Noise impacts wild animals which are active by the night

* Hillocks are often home to endangered species

* Activities like drinking, smoking and junking food can alter animal behaviour

Source: TOI-BGLR