Conservationists oppose plans to develop HPF factory in Ooty into IT Park

The premises are now home to a number of wildlife species, conservationists say   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A proposal to convert the defunct Hindustan Photo Films (HPF) factory in Udhagamandalam -- home to a multitude of wildlife since its closure a few years ago -- into an IT Park, is causing concern among local residents and conservationists. They are worried that one of the last remaining green spaces within Udhagamandalam town could be lost once again to development policies.

Recently, Forest Minister, K. Ramachandran, pointed out that the HPF premises encompasses around 300 acres of land in three blocks. He said the government was looking towards creating jobs for unemployed youth and was trying to identify land where IT parks can be set up. Mr. Ramachandran said that the HPF factory premises are one such possible location for development.

When reporters pointed out that the factory is now home to a variety of wildlife, including leopards, sloth bears, Sambar deer, barking deer, Indian gaur and dhole and that any change to the current area would entail the disturbance of habitat for these key wildlife species, Mr. Ramachandran brushed off the concerns. He said that more than 3,000 people used to work in the factory when it was still functional and ended the press conference.

However, conservationists and local residents who have been working on ensuring the protection of green spaces in quickly-urbanising hill towns in the district, have called for the plans to be scrapped.

N. Sadiq Ali, founder of the Wildlife and Nature Conservation Trust (WNCT), said that he was totally against the move. “There is a water body inside the HPF factory, and since the closure of the factory, wildlife has gradually moved back in and is using the area. It would be a huge setback if this factory was once again operated,” he said.

The conservationist and former honorary wildlife warden from the Nilgiris also called for forests currently managed by local municipalities to be handed back to the Forest Department. “The HPF factory was constructed on land leased from the Forest Department. The land should be handed back to the Forest Department, along with municipal forests so that they can be better managed,” he said.

N. Mohanraj, another Nilgiris-based conservationist said that he did not believe that an IT park, if operated with around a few hundred people would leave a significant footprint that will affect the environment. “However, they shouldn’t expand the current operational area by constructing more buildings,” he said.

However, Shobana Chandrashekar, a Nilgiris resident who has led community efforts to help clean up residential areas and protect green spaces in Udhagamandalam town, said that she was disappointed that the State Forest Minister, in-charge of protecting forests, was announcing plans to develop land and bring in jobs that will impact local wildlife.

“Towns need green spaces. Much of the greenery around Ooty town has already been lost to development,” she said. “Citizens groups had earlier approached the government urging them to use the existing HPF factory infrastructure for the construction of the new government college and hospital, but were turned down,” added Ms. Chandrashekar.

Over 2,000 trees inside a reserve forest were cut down to make way for the new buildings for the hospital in another part of town, and if plans to develop the HPF factory infrastructure come to fruition, there are concerns that the entire area, home to a variety of wildlife will be lost or unalterably diminished.

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Printable version | Dec 9, 2021 5:04:44 PM |

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