Theni forest fire: a trek that ended in tragedy

Authorities find Chennai Trekking Club premises deserted

A day after trekkers, many of them women, were caught in the forest fire in Theni, the office of the Chennai Trekking Club, which organised an all-women expedition was deserted.

The Sholinganallur Tahsildar and personnel from the Neelangarai Police Station visited the Palavakkam house, — which served as the Club’s base — within the upscale VGP Layout. They entered the premises through the unlocked gate and inspected the premises.

“I am here to ascertain whether the club has been registered in accordance with the law. We will keep investigating,” said Tahsildar Ezhumalai.

An individual who introduced himself as the caretaker could only say that the CTC held its meetings within the two-storey property.

An individual with knowledge of the matter said that its owners have been attempting to rent out the property for over a month. “There was a ‘To let’ board on the gate; it is missing now,” he said.

The house itself is sparsely furnished; neighbours recalled seeing a board on the pillar adjacent the gate with CTC founder Peter Van Geit’s name and that of the club. All that was left of it on Monday was a rectangular mark of faded paint.

Mr. Van Geit was not available for comments on Monday. He had taken part in a 150 km Chennai-Auroville run over Friday-Saturday, part of a series of events to mark the CTC’s 10th anniversary. Mr. Ramakrishnan said that Mr. Van Geit was on his way to Theni on Monday.

‘Not sans permission’

In a related development, a member of the Chennai Trekking Club claimed that entry into the forest, where nine trekkers have died, is not possible without a permission from the District Forest Officer.

Ramakrishnan E., a member of CTC, said that the trekking team would not have been able to go beyond the forest check post at Kurangani village without appropriate documents.

Mr. Ramakrishnan, who has trekked to the forest in question twice with CTC teams, said that the documents were likely with the deceased leaders of the 27-member CTC team.

“You cannot cross the check post at Kurangani and begin ascending the 6.5 km-high Kulukkumalai without permission from the DFO. I am sure that Arun and Vipin, who led the team and perished in the fire, had the hard copy of this letter on them,” he said.

Mr. Ramakrishnan claimed that all CTC trips were undertaken only after obtaining the requisite permissions. He also said that, due to the presence of women in the group, the trip would have been organised well.

“Vipin was an expert trekker who has even done Himalayan treks. Therefore, the team did not request a guide from the forest department,” said Mr. Ramakrishnan.

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 3:37:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/authorities-find-chennai-trekking-club-premises-deserted/article23110367.ece

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