State Forest officials are shocked by the efforts of the State Tourism Department to create basic amenities at Varattuppallam reservoir in Erode district, which is located inside Reserved Forest (RF) area where non-forestry activities are prohibited.
A senior official pointed out that the area is an ecologically sensitive one and it was the only reservoir in the State where water was available aplenty even during dry summer months. Animals such as elephants, Indian Gaur, Spotted Deer, Sambhar, Leopard, Sloth Bear, and Freshwater Otter are seen in the area. Besides, there were occasional tiger sightings too. Allowing tourism in such a place would only lead to problems for both humans and the animals.
Already, the Public Works Department even without obtaining permission from the Forest and despite opposition from the naturalists and environmentalists, performed a ‘Bhoomi Pooja’ at the place on June 17 to take up the works for constructing a over head tank, toilets, dressing room, rest shed and parking area for vehicles. The Government had allocated Rs 30 lakh for the works.
Recalling the government order dated October 29, 2012, a senior Forest officer said the then Tourism Minister announced infrastructure development activities in various tourism centres across the State at a cost of Rs 4.87 crore, which included Varattuppallam reservoir also.
Forest officials pointed out that it was unsafe to promote tourism activities near the dam site as it would only lead to increased human – animal conflict. Already nine human beings were reportedly killed by elephants in this area since 2008.
K. Mohan Raj of Tamil Nadu Green Movement (TNGM) said Varattuppallam dam is situated in a reserve forest. Now Tourism department proposed to create facilities such as toilets, dressing rooms, rest shed and vehicle parking facilities to attract tourists. The authorities have to obtain permission from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests under the Forest Conservation Act 1980 before starting any civil work.
Attempts by the Tourism and PWD departments were a clear cut violation of the Supreme Court orders given under the Writ Petition 202/1995 and liable for contempt. The TNGM will serve a contempt notice to the State Chief Secretary, who is the first respondent in the directions given under the same writ petition, Mr Mohan Raj added.
State Tourism department officials said the PWD authorities wanted to construct some toilets and other facilities for the visiting tourists for which the Tourism department allocated funds. However, when the Forest officials expressed displeasure it was decided not to move further. “At present the work is only at the planning stage. So far no work has been started and no damage has been done,” said a senior officer from the Tourism department.