The Sabarimala Ayyappa Seva Samajom (SASS) has moved the Supreme Court of India against the proposal of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to restrict pilgrim movement through Tiger Reserves, including the Periyar Tiger Reserve that houses Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple, by introducing new guidelines for Project Tiger and tourism.

Impleading in the issue through an interlocutory application, the SASS general secretary, Kummanm Rajashekharan, has presented certain key facts and figures before the Apex Court against the NTCA proposal.

According to Mr Rajashekharan, there is no need to control devotees visiting Sabarimala as the existing infrastructure and management of the Forest department is sufficient and efficient to regulate the devotees. Moreover, the devotees visiting Sabarimala never do any harm to the forest eco system.

Mr Rajashekharan said controlling or restricting the Sabarimala pilgrims would only harm the basic tenets of the pilgrimage which is eco-friendly. There has never been any instance of the pilgrims committing intrusion into the Tiger Reserves and hence any restriction on the Sabarimala pilgrimage would only be redundant as far as the scheme for protection of tigers is concerned, he adds.

The SASS leader said that the “proposed NTCA guidelines would adversely affect the fundamental rights of the scores of Ayyappa devotees as it “violates the constitutional fundamentals enshrined in Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India.’’

He said the restrictions proposed by NTCA were unreasonable as reasonable care and caution have already been taken in the matter by the authorities concerned. Moreover, “the habitat of wild animals, including tiger, was zealously preserved and protected in Sabarimala and surrounding forests even before the Wild Life Act and the tiger protection movement started,’’ it adds.

The Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple has been there existed much before the formation of the tiger reserve. People who visit the hill shrine are not tourists, but devotees who undertake a unique pilgrimage after observing strict abstinence and maintaining mental and physical purity.

SASS asserts that Sabarimala pilgrimage can never be treated as tourism, but a spiritual expedition.

The Kerala High Court has appointed an Ombudsman and a Special Commissioner for monitoring the functioning of various Government agencies as well as the temple administration at Sabarimala. The Forest department too appoints a Special Officer for Sabarimala, besides opening a control room headed by an Assistant Conservator of Forests, during the annual pilgrimage season.

“The pilgrim management within the sanctuary is being carried out, taking into consideration various legal provisions and customary practices. However, the pilgrimage will in no way harm PTR as it situates not in the core area of the tiger reserve, but bordering the Ranni Forest division. Sabarimala belongs to the southern-most end of PTR where the tiger potential is very negligent,’’ he said.

The SASS leader says that the spiritual abode of Sabarimala is considered as the haven for Lord Ayyappa’s favourite animals like tiger, leopard, etc, and devotees used do offerings to these wild animals as it being the part and parcel of their devotion, custom and tradition.

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