Tamil Nadu

A year when environment made news in Tamil Nadu

After the Kurangani fire, the government imposed a ban on trekking during peak forest fire season.  

It started out pretty well this year for the environment and the forest sector in Tamil Nadu. But as the months rolled on, the situation turned ghastly very early, and soon it became the hot bed of controversy. Some of the unresolved issues are likely to crop up next year, challenging the State.

January began with a lot of hope after the government passed an order to declare nearly 23,000 hectares in Ambasamudram taluk in Tirunelveli district, including the Manjolai estate as ‘Reserve Forests’. Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation can enjoy lease till 2028, after which the forests will be restored as it happens to be the core habitat of the Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve.

But there was a tragedy round the corner. March 11 turned out to be a fateful day for 23 trekkers, who lost their lives at Kurangani in the Bodi hills. Charred bodies of several adventurous young women and other trekkers raised questions about the Forest Department’s negligence, as field-level officers were completely unaware of the presence of the trekkers.

Waking up to trekking being organised without the permission of Forest Department, the State government brought in new regulations and imposed a ban on trekking during peak forest fire season.

Then the Thoothukudi shooting incident happened on May 22. While it seems like a case of police excess, the heart of the issue was a battle over the environment. While there has been opposition to Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper Smelter plant in the southern port town from the mid-1990s, the protests gathered momentum due to the expansion plan. Frustrated from the beginning, the locals, with the help of activists staged protests that turned violent on the hundredth day when they marched towards the Collectorate. Police firing resulted in the killing of 13 civilians.

Activists have called the Thoothukudi shooting incident “one of the gravest human rights violation in the context of an environmental disaster”. While the State government ordered the permanent closure of the smelter, the company went to the National Green Tribunal, which ordered it to be reopened.

Jumbo deaths

Mid-way through the year, there was a raging controversy over the proposed ₹10,000 crore greenfield road corridor from Chennai to Salem that runs through five districts. Not just the Centre, the State government too is keen to connect the capital city to the Chief Minister’s native district (Salem). The compensation was hiked and alignment was changed. Farmers, however, continue to protest.

Down south in the ghats, forest officials’ negligence led to the electrocution of six elephants in Megamalai Wildlife Sanctuary over six months. Poachers are believed to be back in Theni and Srivilliputhur forest areas. At Samayapuram, Masini, the temple elephant killed the mahout. A wild elephant kept in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, it was donated to the temple.

Meanwhile, the State Wildlife Board recommended to the National Wildlife Board approval for over 40 quarries close to the reserve forests, sanctuaries and tiger reserves, justifying that they would all be outside the eco-sensitive zones.

In August, 36 illegal resorts in the Sigur plateau were sealed by the Nilgiris district administration on the orders of the Supreme Court to restore the critical elephant corridor connecting the Western and Eastern Ghats.

New Year will bring in the ban on disposable plastic in the State.


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Printable version | Nov 22, 2021 12:53:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/a-year-when-environment-made-news/article25839603.ece

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