Home to tigers, elephants, footfall spike may harm Sabarimala ecology
At the Nilakkal base camp for devotees, the NTCA found that trees were being cut to develop parking areas, leading to a high level of deforestation.Updated: Oct 19, 2018 00:07 IST
The Sabarimala temple’s decision to open its doors to women of all ages on the Supreme Court’s orders amid protests by traditionalists has worried the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). The hilltop shrine in Kerala is located inside the Periyar Tiger Reserve, which is home to 20 tigers and other wildlife, including elephants.
An estimated 100,000 devotees throng the temple on peak days of worship of the presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, and the NTCA is concerned about the impact that a higher number of devotees will have on the ecology of the area in the Western Ghats.
“A massive number of devotees visit the temple and since it is inside a protected tiger reserve, the Sabarimala Master Plan was developed in 2007 to ensure that the ecology is not disturbed,” said Anup Kumar Nayak, member secretary, NTCA.
“A recent review, however, found that not much has been done to manage the existing number of devotees and implementing the master plan,” said Nayak.
Acting on the Supreme Court’s September 28 order, the temple on Wednesday opened its doors to women of all ages, who have been barred from the shrine because of a centuries-old tradition.
A review of the implementation of the master plan, the Kerala government and the Travancore Devaswom Board on October 9 found several flaws in the implementation. They found evidence of deforestation, construction of structures not conforming to the plan, a faulty sewage treatment plant and illegal garbage dump.
At the Nilakkal base camp for devotees, the NTCA found that trees were being cut to develop parking areas, leading to a high level of deforestation. New buildings — driver shelters, dormitories and hotels — were being constructed without conforming to specifications of the master plan.
The state government still hasn’t developed a blueprint for the area based on the master plan.
In the vicinity of the Pampa river, which is the next stop for devotees, several buildings had been constructed within a 50 metre radius of the river, noted the review. The state government too constructed a hospital in a “deviation from the plan,” according to the observations of the NTCA. The green zone in front of the hospital was also removed for parking of vehicles.
The NTCA also noted the absence of a sufficient number of bio-toilets and found that the sewage treatment plant was not working, leading to the discharge of untreated faecal waste into the Pampa river. “Black-coloured wastewater containing human waste from Pampa STP runs to Pampa river,” NTCA observed, a copy of which was accessed by Hindustan Times.
A fixed railing erected along the route from the Pampa river to the Sannidhanam (sanctum sanctorum) had been removed on the orders of the Kerala high court because the barrier prevented free movement of wildlife.
The tree cover at Sannidhanam was less than 20%, against the 50% prescribed in the masterplan. Only five trees were planted in the temple premises in 2018.
Two buildings came up in the area despite the masterplan’s recommendation to reduce the number of concrete structures.
“The congregation of a large number of people close to a Tiger reserve disturbs the prey-predator dynamics. We have seen this in Kanha too. Plus it disturbs the ground vegetation in the area. So the big cat also gets affected. It’s best to keep these areas quiet by keeping crowds away,” said Faiyaz A Khudsar, wildlife biologist.