Theni forest fire: a trek that ended in tragedy

Tahsildar, police inspect office of trekking club

Trekking Office closed at Palavakkam.   | Photo Credit: M. Karunakaran

A day after trekkers, many of them women, were caught in the forest fire in Theni, the Palavakkam house that served as the office of the Chennai Trekking Club (CTC), which had organised an all-women expedition, remained deserted.

The Sholinganallur Tahsildar and personnel from the Neelangarai Police Station visited the house, located in the upscale VGP Layout. They entered the premises through the unlocked gate and carried out an inspection.

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

A man who introduced himself as the caretaker could only say that the CTC held its meetings within the two-storey property. Another person said its owners had been trying to rent out the property for over a month. “There was a ‘To let’ board on the gate, but it is missing now,” he said.

The house itself was 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 CTC’s 10th anniversary.

‘An expert’

Ramakrishnan E, a member of CTC, said that Mr. Van Geit was on his way to Theni.

He claimed that entry into the forest, where nine trekkers died, was not possible without permission from the District Forest Officer.

He said 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 | Feb 26, 2021 12:46:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/tahsildar-police-inspect-office-of-trekking-club/article23165808.ece

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