That pilgrimage ‘does not affect’ the Periyar habitat of tigers

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has said that he is confident of convincing the Supreme Court of the issues related to Sabarimala consequent on its ruling on the guidelines for the protection of tiger reserves in the country.

In a statement here on Friday, Mr. Chandy said the Advocate General had been entrusted with the job of filing an affidavit before the Supreme Court, which was considering the guidelines for protecting the tiger reserves, after detailed discussions with the Forest and Wildlife Department and the Travancore Devaswom Board. The affidavit laying out Kerala’s views on the subject would be filed on Monday.

Master plan

The Chief Minister said the Supreme Court was aware of the facts related to Sabarimala because the master plan envisaging the development of the holy hillock for the next 50 years had been prepared as per its directions. The Central government had released 12.67 hectares from the Periyar Tiger Reserve with the permission of the apex court. “We are confident that we would be able to convincing the Supreme Court against imposing the restrictions on Sabarimala pilgrimage. The court, which had given all the sanctions related to Sabarimala development, is aware of the future requirements for development,” he said.

Mr. Chandy pointed out that the question of the development of Sabarimala first came up when the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, headed by Buta Singh, visited the area in 2003 and submitted a report criticising the Central and State governments for the poor infrastructure available there, besides recommending steps to address the issue. Following this, the then United Democratic Front (UDF) government submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister seeking the release of forestland for the development of the hill shrine. The Union Environment Ministry, after detailed studies, directed the State government to prepare a master plan for Sabarimala development. The master plan was later approved by the Environment Minister, the Central government’s empowered committee, and the National Board for Wildlife headed by the Prime Minister. The master plan, along with the approvals, was submitted to the Supreme Court, which cleared the master plan, facilitating the release of 12.67 acres of forestland by the Central government. “This was one of the major achievements of the previous UDF government,” the Chief Minister said.

Its history

Sabarimala is a hill shrine that is centuries old. The temple was in existence much before the tiger reserve came into existence. People arriving at Sabarimala are not tourists but devotees. The temple cannot be compared to other forest shrines. Besides, Sabarimala is situated on the buffer zone of the tiger reserve and not in its core area. Sabarimala pilgrimage does not affect the habitat of tigers, he said.

Reiterating his government’s commitment to taking firm steps for Sabarimala development, Mr. Chandy said Rs.15 crore and Rs.25 crore had been utilised for the master plan in 2011-12 and 2012-13 respectively. The government had sanctioned Rs.5 crore for a zero-waste project, besides renovating the parking ground at Nilackal and readying queue complexes from Saramkuthi. The ‘nadapandal’ (covered pathways) from Pampa to Marakoottam and the new queue complex at Marakoottam will be inaugurated on October 20. A two-floor huge nadapandal is getting ready at the Sannidhanam at a cost of Rs.27 crore. In addition, work is progressing on a Rs.12-crore ‘aravana’ plant and a parallel drinking water pipeline to the Sannidhanam from Pampa. A ropeway to the Sannidhanam is also under way.

Sabarimala roads

The government has decided to expand the Kunnar dam at a cost of Rs.5 crore. Over and above this, the government has spent Rs.67 crore for heavy maintenance of the Sabarimala roads this season. It has sanctioned Rs.7 crore for Kannamala bridge construction, which got the Centre’s environmental clearance, Rs.3 crore for the Pengattukadavu bridge, and Rs.5.7 crore for the Peroorchal bridge.

The Chief Minister said the government had initiated steps to implement the recommendations of the M.R. Hariharan Nair Commission report on the Pulmedu tragedy that claimed 102 lives. Accordingly, the government has initiated measures to improve the security facilities at Pulmedu and similar places, besides preparing a security manual, he said.

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