Theni forest fire: a trek that ended in tragedy

Forester suspended over Theni wildfire tragedy

An IAF helicopter involved in rescue operations.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A forester named Jayasingh, associated with the Munthal section of the Bodi forest range, was suspended on Tuesday by the Forest Department. Jayasingh allegedly knew about the trekking expedition of the 12-member Erode-based group at Kurangani in Theni district.

This is the first disciplinary action by the department, following the tragic wildfire on Sunday, which has resulted in the death of 11 people — the latest being Divya, a newly married woman whose husband Vivek perished in the fire.

According to department sources, inquiries thus far have revealed that the expedition organised by the Chennai Trekking Club (CTC), which originally included 27 people, of whom three returned midway, did not approach anyone from the Forest Department for permission. A senior official in the department said that a member of the Erode-based trekking group had directly contacted Jayasingh, who allegedly made the group transfer money to his bank account for allowing their entry. “Jayasingh should have passed on the information to senior officials and ensured that the group did not trek in an unauthorised route,” a senior official involved in the inquiry told The Hindu.

Permitted route

The only permitted trekking route in the area is from Kurangani to Top Station, which is managed by the Eco-tourism Management Committee, involving department personnel and locals. An entry fee is collected for this, a senior official explained.

A senior official in the department said that a member of the Erode-based trekking group had directly contacted Jayasingh, who allegedly made the group transfer money to his bank account for allowing their entry.

“Jayasingh should have passed on the information to senior officials and ensured that the group did not trek in an unauthorised route,” a senior official involved in the inquiry told The Hindu.

The only permitted trekking route in the area is from Kurangani to Top Station, which is managed by the Eco-tourism Management Committee, involving department personnel and locals. An entry fee is collected for this, a senior official explained.

“Even if both the trekking groups had paid this entry fee, as they now claim, that gives them permission only for Kurangani to Top Station trek and not to Kollukumalai (where they were trapped by the blaze),” the forest official said. Trekking on any other route must have approval from the District Forest Officer of Theni Division.

Though a statement by the CTC on Tuesday claimed that they paid a fee and were issued an entry pass, the official said the claim was false. D. Monisha, one of the survivors from the CTC-organised group, said that she did not pay money to the group for obtaining permission from the Forest Department.

She also said that the group did not encounter any Forest Department officials during the entire trek.

“I presume that if it was not permitted, forest officials must have blocked somewhere,” she had said.

R. Divya, 25, of Erode, an assistant professor at a Gobichettipalayam college, who had sustained 90% burns died on Tuesday.

She had gone for the trek with her husband Vivek.

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 2:18:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/forester-suspended-over-theni-wildfire-tragedy/article23232841.ece

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