Maharashtra is in the process of developing an eco-tourism circuit connecting nearly 350 locations to a common grid for providing better facilities and development of popular destinations in the State. Maharastra Minister of Finance, Planning, and Forests, Sudhir Mungantiwar, said 43 destinations under the grid will be taken up in the first phase and the remaining ones in the second and third. The government has set aside ₹351 crore for the development of the circuit.The Maharashtra Eco-tourism Board has already taken up the project, which will include Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park. “Maharashtra is the best State for all types of tourism including forts, coastal tourism, forest safaris and spiritual tourism. Tourism is a plus point for the State to create employment opportunities for locals. The Eco-tourism Board implements various initiatives considering all these aspects, and this will be one of the major projects of the board,” said Mr. Mungantiwar. Senior officials said the circuit will include and connect 124 forest gardens, 43 historical forts, six tiger projects, 33 wildlife sanctuaries, 52 religious destinations, 55 eco-tourism destinations and five hill stations. The first phase will include development of 43 eco-tourism destinations, while the second phase will include another 139. Mr. Mungantiwar said draft plans for 189 out of 347 eco-tourism destinations in the State have been approved. The project will encourage employment opportunities for local people through home stays, being tourist guides, providing vehicles for tourists and doing odd jobs. Local people are also being provided with training and basic facilities. “It will be possible to provide better facilities to tourists if buffer and corridor areas of forests are developed from the perspective of tourism. Adventure sports will be encouraged in the forts of the State,” he said.The Maharashtra Eco-tourism Development Board was established in 2015 to provide tourists with better facilities. The board encourages eco-tourism considering economic, social, and environmental aspects of a destination. Under its initiatives, zilla parishad and ashram shala students are taken on a one-day jungle safari. They are given information about forests and wildlife, and are made to participate in conservation and growth of forests, officials said.