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Squeezing life out of Ponmudi

G. Anand
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Broken glass, plastic, and food wastes blight grasslands; endanger wildlife

If there is any truth in the adage that “you are what you throw away,” the magnitude of discarded urban refuse at Ponmudi Hill Station, a favourite weekend holiday destination in the district, speaks volumes about its hundreds of visitors.

Shards of broken beer and liquor bottles, discarded drinking water and soda bottles (mostly plastic), cigarette butts, burned matchsticks, chewing tobacco packets, cheap plastic lighters, food leftovers, oil papers, aluminium foil and Styrofoam cups blight the scenic and ecologically fragile grasslands at Upper Sanatorium, the highest point of the hill station.

Voluntary effort

Forest Range Officer, Palode, B. Anil said that a voluntary garbage collection effort initiated by wildlife enforcers on January 26, Republic Day, yielded 19 sacks of non-biodegradable waste, mostly plastic bottles, within 30 minutes of the commencement of the cleaning drive.

The volunteers found it particularly difficult to clear the grasslands near the Upper Sanatorium of glass flakes from hundreds of broken liquor bottles.

Mr. Anil said the scenic hill-top grasslands are often foraging grounds for migrating herds of Indian Bison (Gaur) and elephants.

Tahr's home

The knolls surrounding the 1,100-m high hill station are home to the endangered Nilgiri Tahr. Forest enforcers said they had sighted leopards several times near the grasslands.

In February last year, a group of forest enforcers had spotted a suspected tiger kill, a half-eaten and rotting carcass of an Indian Bison weighing nearly 600 kg, while trekking up hill to survey the Nilgiri Tahr population at Varayattumudi adjacent to Ponmudi. So far none of them have sighted a tiger in the wildlife reserve.

Permanent scar

Forest enforcers said that urban refuse discarded by tourists could permanently scar the environment and potentially harm wildlife at Ponmudi and adjoining forests in the Neyyar Wildlife Reserve.

In order to fight the menace of garbage, Divisional Forest Officer P. Pukazhenthy has ordered wildlife enforcers to collect a caution deposit of Rs.50 for each plastic bottle or item carried to the upper sanatorium by visitors.

Fine to be imposed

Forest officials would return the deposit after ensuring that the visitors carry the plastic back with them. Litterbugs would be fined. The government would set up a drinking water fountain and cafeteria to discourage visitors from bringing their own food and refreshments to the forest area. Consumption of liquor and smoking would be prohibited.

However, certain nature lover groups are sceptical whether the government's initiative will make truly Ponmudi “green.” They said that either side of the narrow winding road to Ponmudi was littered with refuse discarded by visitors to the hill top, an estimated 3,000 people a month. Ideally, the government should not allow people to carry plastic items, cigarettes or liquor beyond Kallar, they said.

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