By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, May 15 (IANS): In a unique CSR-cum-passion initiative, Indias leading heart surgeon, Dr Ramakanta Panda, will ‘gift an eco-friendly holiday resort for the benefit of around 2,000 poor forest workers in and around the famed Bandhavgarh National Park (BNP) and sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.
The resort, with comfortable tent-cottages, will be set up jointly by the Asian Heart Institute (AHI) Mumbai of which Dr Panda is the Vice-Chairman and Managing Director, and his family-run Funding Asian Wildlife Charitable Trust (FAWCT), in collaboration with the MP government.
"It's my pet project for which I am getting unstinting support from the Madhya Pradesh Government and the Forest Minister Dr Kunwar Vijay Shah. The proceeds will go towards employees who care for the BNP sanctuary, sensitize people towards conservation and other similar activities," Panda told IANS.
Unknown to many, Panda's heart beats for nature, flora and fauna. He is an avid wildlife photographer, who easily sheds his sterile surgical gloves, gown and scrub caps for coarse jungle outfits, sophisticated cameras and a keen eye for birds, animals, reptiles or other fascinating things to capture on film.
On weekends or on his breaks from AHI, he quietly disappears into the jungles of Maharashtra, other parts of India and even the forested havens of South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya which abound in wildlife.
"In my many trips to Bandhavgarh, I noticed how hard the workers toil in the forests to protect our natural resources from poachers or smugglers, often at great risk to their lives... At the day's end, they can barely afford a meal of rice or chappatis with onions and chillies as accompaniments," Panda said.
Moved by what he witnessed, he decided to do something worthwhile for the long-term welfare of the forest workers and their families.
"I approached the MP government with my proposal to construct a resort, the proceeds of which will be donated to the forest workers. They readily agreed and allotted 11 acres of land near Tala Gate," he said.
Now, the designers are working on a plan centered on ‘tent accommodation'. Panda has made an initial contribution of Rs 30 lakhs and will make more as needed in the future. The resort will be operational by the Diwali 2022 holiday season.
"We are taking full care not to disturb or damage the local environment, so the tent-cottages, plus there will be a bird studio, organic vegetable garden, a bird hide and other attractions for commoners and wildlife enthusiasts," he explained.
Present at the small launch ceremony held there recently were Dr Panda, Minister Dr Shah, BNP Field Director B. N. Annagiri and others.
The MP Minister lauded Panda's efforts and urged more wildlife lovers to step forward and support conservation activities with such novel initiatives.
Panda has successfully implemented similar ventures at the Kanha National Park and Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary by donating a petrol pump and erecting a boom barrier to create a parking lot, respectively, and the income generated resulted in a sea-change for the workers in both the reserves.
"The people in BNP are very hospitable, good cooks and managers… The resort will help boost their incomes and a part of it will go towards wildlife conservation programmes and kids' education," he smiled.
Considered the first of its kind experiment in India, Panda hopes it will become a ‘role-model' for the CSR activities of other corporate houses at different wildlife sanctuaries in the country.
Once a hunting ground of the erstwhile Maharajas in central India, Bandhavgarh has now been declared a national park, sprawling over more than 700 sq kms and is home to the Royal Bengal Tiger, leopards, deer and 35 other species of mammals, 250 species of birds and 80 species of butterflies.
Ranked as the world's safest cardiac surgeon who performed complicated and high-risk surgeries with ease, Padma Bhushan laureate Panda shot into the limelight when he operated on former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2009.