The Tenkasi district administration on Monday cracked down on unlawfully created waterfalls in private properties situated deep inside the forests of the Western Ghats. The property owners and their caretakers had created these waterfalls by illegally diverting the wild streams flowing from the hill to earn money from tourists.
Following repeated representations from farmers, who faced hardship due to the illegal diversion of water and tourist flow into the forests, District Collector P. Akash has initiated action against the illegal waterfalls. On Monday, an eviction operation was undertaken from Erumaichavadi Odai area.
Mr. Akash formed a team of officials from the Departments of Forest, Revenue, Public Works and Water Resources Organisation for a field inspection. He discussed this issue with Thiruvaavaduthurai Adheenam Mutt, which has given on lease its lands to the individuals for cultivation, to prevent the misuse by the lessees.
“We have identified 29 resorts with artificial waterfalls in Tenkasi district. We have started the removal of the constructions made to divert the wild streams with heavy equipment and it will continue,” said a senior government official involved in the drive.
The district administration has also issued notices to the ‘private waterfalls’ resorts beyond Gundar Dam, the busiest spot.
Since the southwest monsoon season would ensure copious rainfall along the Western Ghats, all waterfalls in the Courtallam would be flowing fully between June and August attracting a large numbers of tourists.
As affluent tourists started looking for serene and unpolluted areas close to the Western Ghats, those who had ‘patta’ lands or lands taken on long-term lease from the Mutts and the temples for cultivation of pepper, jack fruit, coconut, mango etc., constructed resorts in these private estates situated inside the forest of the Western Ghats. Some of them diverted the wild streams and created artificial waterfalls within their fenced properties to cater to the affluent sections.
Apart from the residents of Tenkasi district, people from other parts, including Kerala invested in this thriving business that seriously affected farming operations due to diversion of wild streams.
“They charge anywhere between ₹ 5,000 to ₹ 7,000 a day for a room with four beds exclusive of food cost. They have created waterfalls within their properties by diverting the wild streams and illuminated the waterfalls with floodlights. This enables families to enjoy the water falls even at midnight. Due to the serenity and natural ambience, the patronage for such properties has been high during the season,” said S.T. Shaik Maideen of Akhila India Vivsaayigal Maha Sabha from Vadakarai. He was the first to raise this issue in the farmers’ grievances day meet way back in 2004 itself. He brought to light the diversions made in Erumaichaadi Odai for creating artificial waterfalls within illegal resorts in Maekkarai area.
Since the property owners erect fence around their resorts to check the entry of wild animals, invasion of elephants, wild boar and the deer into the ranches of Paimpozhil, Maekkarai and Vadakarai and man-animal problematic interactions has become a daily affair.
Another major problem is the hundreds of discarded empty liquor bottles inside the forest by the tourists staying in these resorts.