Theni: Expressing grief over the trekking expedition deaths, the Chief Minister said, “I am anguished to know that 10 persons were killed in the forest fire.” Mr Palaniswami announced a solatium of Rs 4 lakh to each of the families of the deceased, `one lakh to the grievously injured and Rs 50,000 to those with simple injuries. While ordering the probe into the incident, Mr Palaniswami said action should be initiated against those who arranged for the trek without Forest department's permission.
On the possibility of forest fire, he explained that the scorching sun and severe drought condition and the leaves frequently falling to the ground, any small fire could spread fast leading to severe damage. During summer months of March, April and May, permission for trekking is not given, as the high forest ranges are dry with the possibility of forest fires spreading fast, he said. The CM refuted a charge that there had been laxity in undertaking rescue operations and said that it was launched immediately on war footing. "Owing to the difficult terrain and darkness, the personnel involved in the rescue operation faced lot of difficulty on Sunday night," he added.
Deputy CM O. Panneerselvam, Ministers R.B. Udayakumar, Dindigul C. Sreenivasan, C. Vijayabaskar, besides senior officials, and district collector, police and forest officials were camping in that area and overseeing the rescue operation.
A 36-member team - 24 from Chennai and 12 from Tiruppur and Erode districts had embarked on the trekking expedition and reached Kurangani hills on March 10. The team included 25 women and three children, according to Theni District Collector Mariam Pallavi Baldev. Three of them had returned to the plains without going ahead further. After staying at an estate in Kozhukumalai overnight, the trekkers started their return journey to the plains on Sunday morning when they noticed the sudden forest fire and got separated while attempting to find a safe way, collector said.