The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) is considering the possibility of delinking Sabarimala from the Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR).
TDB president M.P. Govindan Nair has already taken strong exception to the alleged “undue and avoidable” interference of the Forest Department in the initiatives taken by the board as well as the High Power Committee to provide basic pilgrim facilities at Sabarimala.
The TDB president was of the view that Forest officials were hampering development works by bringing up “minor” and “avoidable” issues.
He said both the TDB and HPC were particular in executing various development projects at Sabarimala in an eco-friendly manner. Moreover, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests was a member of HPC that gave the final clearance for development projects.
Talking to The Hindu, Devaswom Commissioner P. Venugopal said the Forest Department had objected to the TDB proposal to address the drinking water problem at the pilgrims’ base camp at Nilackal by constructing a small check-dam in the natural stream, Kaduvathode, flowing through the land in possession of the board.
The Forest Department was of the view that the roofing of the trekking path and the two queue complexes at Sabaripeedhom and Saramkuthi obstructed the movement of wild animals in the PTR.
The toilets constructed at both the queue complexes have remained closed for the past two years owing to denial of permission for the safe disposal of human waste generated there, he said.
Both the TDB chief and commissioner were of the view that forests in this part of PTR had remained verdant and less disturbed only because of Sabarimala.
Mr. Venugopal said the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament of 2003-’04, chaired by Buta Singh, had recommended delinking of 500 ha of forests comprising the sacred grove of Sabarimala from the PTR.
The PAC had visited Sabarimala during the Makaravilakku festival in 2004. The report submitted by the committee to Parliament had stated in unambiguous terms that the “massive inflow of pilgrims into the temple area, was creating serious problems of spatial and logistical management, resulting in unimaginable miseries to the devotees,” the commissioner said.
The Forest Department had stated before the PAC that Sabarimala was situated in the buffer zone of the PTR and not in the core area.
The TDB was of the view that “Tirumala under the Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam of Andhra Pradesh is a comparable pilgrim centre to
Sabarimala. Tirumala is also situated in a reserve forest, but there is absolutely no hindrance to development activities to craete facilities for the lakhs of devotees visiting Tirupati.”
Mr Venugopal said the TDB would seek the delinking of Sabarimala from the PTR as recommended by the PAC with a firm assurance that the land allotted to the board would be utilised perfectly in an eco-friendly manner, protecting the wildlife as well as the interests of the devotees.
He said the TDB would be happy to constitute its own department comprising experts for protection of the environment, forests and wildlife at Sabarimala.