Gir hotels back as homestay units
The Times Of India
AHMEDABAD: The state tourism department has given permission to 55 farmhouses and guesthouses on the periphery of Gir sanctuary for use as home stay establishments. However, it is not clear whether permission is legal as the Gujarat high court has declared many of these farmhouses illegal because they were earlier being used as hotels.
Sources in the tourism department claimed these farmhouses don't qualify for approval under the homestay policy. According to the policy, the owner of a homestay unit has to stay on the premises but this is not the case with most of these farmhouses. Hence such permission is illegal under the policy, said sources. Of the 55 establishments given approval, 52 are in Sasan while three are in Junagadh district.
Interestingly, the forest department was not aware of homestay approval being given to establishments just outside Gir, the only abode of Asiatic Lions. Officials in Gir, too, said they had no knowledge of such permissions.
The department has given Bhagvanbhai Solanki permission to use six rooms for home stay visitors. When one calls the phone number of Solanki's farmhouse given on the tourism department's official website, the caretaker, Ramsinh Vadher, picks up the phone. "Bhagvanbhai is not there, I take care of the farmhouse which has been converted into a guesthouse. We used to function as a hotel in the past but would now open as a homestay establishment," Vadher says.
Such farmhouses were sealed by the forest department on the orders of the Gujarat HC. Their owners had then approached the high court for relief but in vain. Now they are reopening under the homestay policy though they have been given permission for this without the knowledge of the forest department. The TOI phoned several farmhouse owners — Jasubhai N Barad, Vishalbhai Bahrvav, Lakhubhai Boricha and others — who had received permission for running home stay establishments.
Jasubhai Barad's farm has a swimming pool and a playground. Vishalbhai Rudabhai Bharvad is another owner who has permission to use his farmhouse as a homestay unit. The tourism department's website has a picture of the place that shows a notice board saying, 'Vibhuvan Farm', and a banner that gives the URL of the establishment's website as http://vibhuvanresort.com/. Moreover, the pictures on the tourism department's portal given for home stay tourists are that of Vibhuvan Resort.
Bhikhabhai U Zala, another farmhouse owner, says his establishment was earlier known as 'The Brookville'. The contact details given for the homestay establishments on the tourism department's website and that of Brookville are the same.
Tourism Minister Saurabh Patel, when contacted, said he wasn't aware of such permissions being granted. "I will instruct secretary, tourism department and managing director of Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited to review all the home stay permissions given in the past three months," said the minister.