Chennai: Even after the state forest department banned trekking in the Reserved Forests (RFs), after Kurangani forest fire incident, in which 23 trekkers were burnt to death in Theni district, reliable sources and wildlife activists say trekking in main hilly stations goes unabated under the guise of photographing. The recent detention of 12 foreign nationals, who had trekked in Tiruvannamalai hills, bears testimony to the fact that how the forest department officials keep poor vigilance in the hills and RFs.
Further, sources said that more persons in groups go on trekking in Nilgiris and Kodaikanal hills, violating the ban. “A group of people approaches the forest department officials stating that its wants to photograph flowers and other plants located in the RFs. After getting permission from officials, they deviate the path and go on trekking,” said a source. Mainly, trekking is entertained in Kotagiri and Coonoor areas in Nilgiris, added the source.
Vijay Krishnaraj, a wildlife activist, Nilgiris, said, “despite ban, more tourists, who come to Nilgiris, manage to enter the RFs under the guise of taking photography. Later, they go on trekking with the knowledge of forest officials. Places like Kotagiri, Kunjapanai, Manjoor-geddai and Coonoor have become a haven for such people for trekking.” He urged the forest department to keep a tab on violators and take stern action on them.
However, Nilgiris district administration maintained that it was closely monitoring reserve forest. Speaking to DC, J. Innocent Divya, district collector of Nilgiris, denied having given permission to the trekkers. “The fact is that many tourists come to Nilgiris district. However, they are not allowed to enter reserve forests without proper permission from forest officials. Mainly, they are instructed not to go on trekking,” she said, adding that forest officials were monitoring the forests round the clock.
When contacted by Deccan Chronicle, T.P. Raghunath, Principle Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden, said that they had alerted all the district level forest officials to keep a vigil on trekkers. “However, the government is preparing strict guidelines, after which ban on trekking might be lifted,” he noted, warning of severe actions against forest officials, who let the trekkers inside the forests.
In March, 23 persons were burnt to death in March, when a group of trekking team climbed the hills in Kurangani forest in Theni district. Later, it was confirmed that the team had neither obtained permission from forest officials nor followed trekking norms.