‘Illegal’ mega structures coming up under PPP model around Ooty lake as part of adventure tourism initiatives 

Tourism Minister K. Ramachandran inspected the area on Sunday and directed officials to expedite work on the adventure park

March 27, 2023 11:47 pm | Updated March 28, 2023 07:58 am IST - UDHAGAMANDALAM

Work under way for zipline at the Udhagamandalam boat house.

Work under way for zipline at the Udhagamandalam boat house. | Photo Credit: SATHYAMOORTHY M

Two mega structures, including a suspension bridge spanning almost half a km, are being constructed without Hill Area Conservation Authority (HACA) clearance just on the periphery of the Ooty Lake and Boat House.

The structures, which include the suspension bridge and a zipline, are part of a series of attractions planned for adventure tourism that are being constructed under the public-private partnership (PPP) model at a cost of ₹ 5 crore. Tourism Minister K. Ramachandran inspected the area on Sunday and directed officials to expedite work on the adventure park, which not only threatens the habitats of around 600 birds that inhabit the lake, but could also endanger the safety of tourists visiting the lake.

According to top sources in the district administration, who requested anonymity, there have been no geological studies or environmental impact assessments done prior to the commencement of the work. “The towers extend downwards by almost 50-feet in a marshy area around the lake,” said the source. Sources in the State Forest Department stated that no agency had come forward seeking a no-objection certificate for the construction.

Officials from the Ooty Lake and Boat House, including manager Samson Kanagaraj, confirmed that work had commenced on the bridge and the tower for the zipline. The suspension bridge is to span a length of 450 meters and will be 120 meters high, according to reports by the Minister on Sunday.

N. Moinudheen, an independent wildlife biologist in the Nilgiris, said the structures could potentially endanger the habitats and nesting areas of spot-billed ducks, common coots and great cormorants commonly spotted around the lake. A recent bird survey also found that aquatic birds were found at the highest density in the Ooty Lake in the Upper Nilgiris. “Seasonal migrants, such as the Kashmiri flycatcher are also spotted around the lake, and any further disturbance could drive them away and stop their visits during winters,” said Mr. Moinudheen. He felt there was also a potential for birds to get ensnared and injured on structures built across the lake.

When contacted, Nilgiris District Collector S.P. Amrith said, “Basically for zipline, they need a tower. The Tourism Department had applied for the construction of the tower for which district approval has been granted. HACA clearance is yet to come through,” said Mr. Amrith, adding that tower construction would only commence when the HACA clearances are approved.

While the Collector stated that the towers would only be constructed once clearances are received, officials from the Tourism Department confirmed that work on the towers has commenced. As per HACA rules, work on projects such as the suspension bridge and tower for the zipline can only commence once prior HACA clearances are obtained. As this is not the case, these structures are technically illegal, activists said.

Surjit K. Chaudhary, a retired IAS officer and Chairperson of the Confederation of Environment Associations of the Nilgiris (CEAN), said such structures cannot be built adjoining the lake. “Any permanent structure built inside the lake is a violation of the Master Plan and Hill Station Building Rules. “The notion that such structures constitute eco-tourism itself is flawed,” said Mr. Chaudhary, adding that the carrying capacity of the hills first need to be studied before measures to promote sustainable eco-tourism are implemented.

“The Ooty Lake itself needs cleaning up, as the town’s entire sewage load flows directly into it. There should be investment to clean up the lake first, before introducing such infrastructure that will only negatively impact both the lake and the district,” said Mr. Chaudhary.

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