SABARIMALA: The discriminatory attitude of the Forest Department towards the Akhila Bharatha Ayyappa Seva Sangham (ABASS) has affected the functioning of the pilgrim transit camp at Karimala which provides free food and medical facilities to thousands of pilgrims who pass through the traditional forest route to Sabarimala.
The Forest Department has imposed a complete ban on the use of firewood in the ABASS camp at Karimala during the season while Eco-Development Committees (EDCs) hotels and shops are exempted from the ban. In addition to the practice of lifting firewood for cooking, the Forest Department provides highly subsidised LPG cylinders to EDCs which fleece pilgrims levying exorbitant prices on the food items.
While ABASS distributes free food to 10,000 pilgrims a day at present that is expected to go up to 30,000 during the peak pilgrim season, the EDCs squeeze pilgrims by charging Rs 60 to Rs 70 for meals and Rs 30 to Rs 40 for a breakfast of three parathas and a side dish.
ABASS general secretary N Velayudhan Nair has urged the Forest Minister to direct the Forest Department to ensure the supply of LPG cylinders to Karimala camp as the Department has tied up with LPG distributors for the supply of LPG to the EDC-run hotels on the Karimala route.
Velayudhan Nair said a memorandum would be submitted to Forest Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan to interfere in the matter by either continuing to allow the use of firewood or make arrangements for the supply of LPG cylinders to Karimala camp.
Nair said the camp officer at Karimala, Gurumuthy Chettiar of Salem, has sought the support of the Forest Department to ensure the smooth run of the transit camp, which faced highhandedness from the members of EDCs during the last pilgrimage season.