Bureaucrat with a heart of green

THE SERENE environment in the verdant settings is what makes the sacred grove of Lord Ayyappa different from other pilgrim centres in the country. Our prime concern should be on preserving the pristine glory of the sacred grove while initiating any kind of development activities at Sabarimala," says Mr. T.K.A. Ayyappankutty Nair, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister of India.

In a chat with The Hindu during his visit to Sabarimala, Mr. Nair stressed the need for an effective public awareness programme on environment protection.

According to Mr. Nair, devotees usually adopt a custom of their own when they are not made aware of the do's and don'ts in the sacred grove. The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) as well as various non-government agencies can do a great deal in this regard.

A recently evolved trend among devotees coming from outside Kerala is to leave behind the clothes that they wear during their pilgrimage near the Pampa River while returning after darshan at the Ayyappa shrine. "The devotees should be discouraged against following such `baseless' customs."

Mr. Nair said the onus of keeping Sabarimala clean did not rest solely with the TDB or the Government. Every devotee has a responsibility to keep the centre clean. What is needed is self-discipline, he says.

Mr Nair says his earlier visit to Sabarimala was more than two decades back, along with his brother, T.K. Krishnankutty Nair, who was also an IAS officer in the Nagaland cadre. "Now, the situation has changed. Manifold increase in the number of pilgrims visiting the shrine has forced the temple administration to make necessary arrangements to provide basic facilities keeping in mind restrictions on utilising reserve forests for non-forestry purposes."

"Personally, I am not for developing such a mini-township with multi-storeyed concrete buildings in Sabarimala. Such a situation would only facilitate the pilgrims to stay back for a longer period," says Mr. Nair. "A well-planned base camp for pilgrims should be set up at Nilackal.

He said the authorities should take care not to fell big trees that give shade and shelter to pilgrims on the trekking path, while planning the proposed queue complex. Eco-friendly building materials should be used for various construction activities at Sabarimala in the larger interests of environment conservation. Incidentally, Mr. Nair, son of Krishna Pillai, who was an employee of the Kerala Forest Department, and Bharati Amma, had his first meal (`choroonu') ceremony as per Hindu religious custom at Sabarimala when he was six months old. He was named Ayyappankutty by the then Raja of Pandalam, the eldest member of the erstwhile Pandalam royal kingdom.

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