SUBJECT :A Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) called Tamil Nadu Wilderness Corporation Private Limited will operate on Public-Private Partnership model for the execution of the projects. 

By SV Krishna Chaitanya

Chennai, March 5, 2021: The Tamil Nadu government has constituted a private entity to promote eco-tourism projects in forest lands. Among the big ticket ventures that the new entity will be giving shape to are the ambitious night safari and safari world projects at Arignar Anna Zoological Park in Chennai. A Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) called Tamil Nadu Wilderness Corporation Private Limited will operate on Public-Private Partnership model for the execution of the projects.

A Government Order (G.O.) was issued in this regard on February 17 detailing various modalities. In the G.O., environment secretary Sandeep Saxena said the SPV will be formed with equity shareholding from three entities - Tamil Nadu Forest Department, the Tamil Nadu Infrastructure Fund (TNIF) and the Tamil Nadu Infrastructure Development Board (TNIDB).

“Greater proportion of the investment would be made by TNIF along with the private partner. The risks associated with such projects are borne by the two investing entities and not the land-owning departments. Such a structure would yield returns for the government on their assets without bearing any significant investment risk,” Saxena said. 

Further, for necessitating professional and quality operations of the facilities, it is proposed that each destination be developed in partnership with an external expert partner. “Each destination would be set-up as a Joint Venture Company (JVC) between the SPV and the expert partner. The SPV shall invite leading professional groups from the field of eco-tourism and related sectors to participate,” the official said.

As per the G.O., control of the SPV is retained by the government. To start with, 10 projects have been identified  in the first phase, which includes Sethumadai in Coimbatore, Mannavanur in Kodaikanal, Thadiyankudisai in Dindigul, Yelagiri and the night safari and safari world projects at Vandalur Zoo in Chennai. When contacted, a senior official in Vandalur Zoo told TNIE that a feasibility study was being conducted for night safari and safari world projects by TNIF Management Corporation Limited.

“They have called for tenders for conducting feasibility studies and designing the safari. Since the model code of conduct came into force, there won’t be any development for next 40 days. Currently, the zoo has lion safari and deer safari. We want to add tiger and bison safari as well. These projects require a lot of funding and private investors will show interest only when it is made feasible,” the official said.  

Forest officials said there are several unutilised, under-utilised, and abandoned buildings/ properties of the government in the identified destinations which can be renovated. Meanwhile, wildlife conservationists and a section of forest officials themselves are averse to the idea. Any eco-tourism project outside reserve forests is absolutely fine and should be promoted considering the fact that it would empower local communities. But, these projects would be counter-productive inside the buffer zone of tiger reserves or national parks where human-animal conflict is a huge problem, they say.  Besides, projects would also require permissions under multiple Acts and Regulations.