The Sabarimala Ayyappa Seva Samajam (SASS) has moved the Supreme Court against the proposal of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to restrict pilgrim movement through Tiger Reserves, including the Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) that houses Sabarimala Ayyappa temple.
Impleading in the issue through an interlocutory application, SASS general secretary Kummanm Rajashekharan presented certain facts and figures before the apex court against the NTCA proposal.
‘No need for curbs’
According to Mr. Rajashekharan, there is no need to control devotees visiting Sabarimala as the existing infrastructure and management of the Forest Department are 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 was eco-friendly. There had never been any instance of the pilgrims committing intrusion into the tiger reserves and hence any restriction on the pilgrimage would only be redundant as far as the scheme for protection of tigers was concerned, he said.
The SASS leader said the proposed NTCA guidelines would adversely affect the fundamental rights of scores of Ayyappa devotees as it ‘‘violates the constitutional fundamentals enshrined in Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution.’’
The Ayyappa temple had been there much before the formation of the tiger reserve. People who visited the hill temple were not tourists, but devotees who undertook a unique pilgrimage after observing strict abstinence and maintaining mental and physical purity.
SASS asserted that Sabarimala pilgrimage could never be treated as tourism, but a spiritual expedition.
The Kerala High Court had 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 would appoint a Special Officer for Sabarimala, besides opening a control room headed by an Assistant Conservator of Forest, 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 is situated 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.