Roy Mathew

Pressure mounting on Government to exclude certain areas

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Pressure is mounting on the Government to exclude certain areas from the proposed Kurinjimala sanctuary while the draft notification of the sanctuary is awaiting clearance from the Revenue Department and the Cabinet.

The declaration of the sanctuary is expected to be made during the Neelakurinji Festival at Munnar, which has been advanced to the last three days of the Wildlife Week (October 7 to 9). The Forest Department has already decided to exclude 123 hectares of revenue land, transferred to it in lieu of forests being diverted from the Periyar Tiger Reserve for Sabarimala development, from the proposed sanctuary area. This is to enable the department to undertake planting operations.

Much of the proposed sanctuary area comes under the Revenue Department though the Forest Department was handed over possession after ejecting ganja cultivators from the area.

However, there are many private plantations and holdings in the region. Large areas are under encroachment and many hold bogus titles. The encroachers will lose their possession if they fall within the notified boundaries of the sanctuary. There is also fear that the roads being constructed for the benefit of the plantations in the area will be hit.

The sanctuary is being proposed to protect the legendary flower neelakurinji (Strobilanthes Kunthiana), which blooms gregariously once in 12 years, and its habitat.

The Forest Department proposed that 32 square kilometres of mountain slopes contiguous to the Pampadum Shola National Park, Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, Anaimudi Shola National Park and the proposed Palani Hills national park be declared as sanctuary.

However, this will depend on the Revenue Department agreeing to the proposal. Some informal discussions have taken place between Forest Minister Benoy Viswom and Revenue Minister K.P. Rajendran in this regard.

The extent and contiguity with other sanctuaries are important for effective conservation of the kurinji habitat - the shola grasslands. If the pressure lobbies have their way, the total protected area will shrink to a third of the proposed area.

The 123 hectares handed over by the Revenue Department for compensatory afforestation is sandwiched between the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary and the proposed sanctuary. Its exclusion will affect contiguity.

The Forest Department is proposing planting of indigenous species in the area. However, there is no precedent of assisted regeneration of shola grasslands.

A higher official of the Forest Department said that the grasslands could be planted with local bamboo species. What other species would be suitable for planting would have to be studied. However, some scientists consider shola grasslands to be climatic climaxes where the shola forests and grasslands exist in a sort of equilibrium. If so, the planting of bamboos on a large-scale can upset the equilibrium instead of helping the regeneration of the shola system.