Forest Department stalls work on underpass project at Marakkoottom

The High Power Committee (HPC) for implementation of the Sabarimala Master Plan is not likely to start the work on the underpass project at Marakkoottom on the Pampa-Sannidhanam path before the beginning of the annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrim season.

Thanks to the objections reportedly raised by the Forest Department on technical grounds when the HPC formally started the work on the same on August 8.

The pilgrims are yet to be benefited with the much sought-after queue complexes constructed at Sabaripeedhom and Saramkuthi on the trekking path for want of basic facilities even after its inauguration by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy in November, 2011.

Sources told The Hindu that the Forest Department had objected to the digging of earth for constructing the proposed underground passage linking the Swami Ayyappan Road with the Chandranandan Road at Marakkoottom. Ironically, the project was cleared at an HPC meeting in which Principal Chief Conservator of Forests V. Gopinathan was also present. The Forest Department had sent two staff to set-out the project site at Marakkoottom on August 7.

The project involves construction of a 45-metre long, 7.6-metre wide, and four-metre high underpass linking the Swami Ayyappan Road with the Chandranandan Road with a view to easing the pilgrim pressure at Marakkoottom where four roads meet.

The work estimated to cost Rs.90 lakh was cleared by the HPC and was formally started on August 8. However, the Forest Department had stopped the work, opposing the straight-line design of the underpass, HPC sources said.

Chennai-based consultants of the projects Pithavadian and Partners Limited (PPL) had designed the underpass. G. Mahesh, architect, PPL, said the underpass should be constructed in a straight line and it required only 1,500 sq.ft. of extra forest land for completion.

The writing on the wall amply suggests that the project has more or less been stalled, giving yet another blow to the government’s development initiatives at Sabarimala.

Queue complex

The two queue complexes constructed at a cost of Rs.3.45 crore at Sabaripeedhom and Saramkuthi have no toilet facility allegedly due to technical objections raised by the Forest Department. HPC sources said the committee could not set up toilets and urinals due to the absence of sewage disposal mechanism.

The proposal was to pump the sewage from a screening chamber to the treatment plant at Sabarimala which still remains on paper. However, the HPC’s attempt to construct a septic tank in the adjoining forests was opposed by the Forest Department, leaving the hapless pilgrims at the receiving end and the public money spent on the project a sheer waste.

Kunnar water project

The Kunnar Dam-based Sabarimala drinking water supply augmentation scheme still remains a non-starter owing to the objections raised by the Forest Department.

A technical study conducted by the Centre for Earth Science Scheme as well as the Kerala High Court had cleared the project.

Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) member Subhash Vasu, when contacted, said the Forest Department had been consciously creating hurdles even on the path of various eco-friendly development initiatives taken up by the HPC and the TDB at Sabarimala.

The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, who is a member of HPC, is solely responsible for stalling various master plan projects which were cleared by the HPC.

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