In a novel initiative to contain the ill-effects of the annual pilgrimage season on the forest environs of Sabarimala and surrounding areas, the Forest department has launched an innovative project, `Harita Poonkavanom’.

The project estimated to cost Rs 37 lakhs is the brainchild of the Mr R.Kamalahar, Divisional Forest Officer in Ranni.

Talking to The Hindu, Mr Kamalahar attached to the Indian Forest Service said the department has launched an awareness campaign to educate the pilgrims as well as local people on the importance of keeping Sabarimala forests clean and free of waste, especially plastic litters which has been posing serious threat to the wild flora and fauna.

According to Mr Kamalahar, lack of proper awareness on the customs and practices involved in the Sabarimala pilgrimage among the pilgrims, especially those coming from the neighbouring States of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Puducherry, has been identified as a main cause leading to pollution of river Pampa and littering of waste in the forests.

'Poonkavanom’ concept

Ayyappa devotees consider Sabarimala comprising 18 hills as the sacred grove (Poonkavanom) of Lord Ayyappa and hence it is of prime importance to keep the area clean serene to the maximum possible extent. In olden days Ayyappa devotees used to take their customary dip in the Pampa and even take home the ``holy’’ Pampa waters in bottles. They were very particular in desisting themselves from engaging in any activity that pollutes the Pampa which they deemed as `holy’.

However, situation took a bad turn with ill-informed pilgrimage groups coming from outside Kerala started throwing their clothes and chain of beads, which they wear for the pilgrimage, into the Pampa due to lack of awareness on the exact customs and practices of this unique pilgrimage, says Mr Kamalahar.

The DFO said Forest department would try to educate the pilgrims as far as possible on the importance of keeping Sabarimala and surrounding forest areas clean as part of the Harita Poonkavanom project.

Awareness rally

Mr Kamalahar has flagged off a public awareness rally in Ranni town on Friday. Hundreds of Vana Samrakshana Samiti volunteers took part in the rally. Mr Raju Abraham, MLA, inaugurated the public meeting held in connection with it.

Mr Kamalahar said the department would distribute pamphlets at the check-posts at Parassala, Aryankavu, Kumily, Walayar, Manjeswaram and Sultan Bathery and various other places, besides erecting information boards and banners at various base camps and along the wayside of the main trunk route leading to Sabarimala.

Plastic collection stations

The DFO said Forest department would also set up satellite plastic collection stations at Laha, Plappally, Nilackal, Kanamala, Elavumkal, Angamoozhy and Pampa during the annual pilgrim season, besides keeping waste bins at different points along various roads leading to Sabarimala through the forests.

Manned iron nets would be erected across river Pampa at Pampa-Triveni for collecting cotton clothes and plastic waste thrown into it during the pilgrimage season.

Mr Kamalahar said the department would also open information centres in the service of pilgrims at Vadasserikkara, Laha, Plappally, Angamoozhy, Nilackal and Pampa and set up pilgrim amenity centres at Kulanjithode near Laha and at Pampa. The department will open souvenir shops at Pampa and Plappally adb deploy round-the-clock mobile Forest Rescue Force on the main trunk road leading to Sabarimala during the Mandalam-Makaravilakku season. The rescue force will also function as disaster management team in the event of an eventuality, he adds.

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