NAMAKKAL,DINDIGUL,THENI: Following the forest fire, the Namakkal Forest Department has imposed a ban to trek in Kolli Hills till May 31 on Tuesday. DFO R Kanjana told media persons that as per the government direction the ban was implemented.
“During the last summer vacation, we gave permission for three groups to trek in Kolli Hills. Though none had sought permission to trek so far, the situation had led to a ban on trekking. Yet another reason is the scorching sun that withers most trees and there are chances for them to catch fire,” she explained.
The same ban has also been imposed in Kodaikanal. The forest department used to give permission to walk in certain routes that include Kumbakarai, Kavunji and Koogal areas. The-eco tourism development committee also used to collect a fee from people, who choose to trek. After the Kurangani incident, the department imposed restriction until dry season ends. Also, raid in forest areas have been intensified to prevent illegal entry.
Meanwhile, Forest Minister C Srinivasan said that the 39 trekkers did not have proper permission to visit Kolukkumalai from Kurangani. The minister said the officials might have provided adequate security to the trekkers if they had sought permission.
The truth is, the forest department has deployed watchers, guards, an eco-tourism committee and fire watchers to monitor the forest areas round the clock. However, they failed to notice the outsiders who were roaming in the reserve forest area for two days.
The 39 trekkers stayed in different tents erected near a private estate, after paying `1,500 per head at Kolukkumalai. They went to Kolukkumalai on Saturday and trekked from there to Kurangani during the day time. However, no one forest official or guards intercepted them to find out why they were wandering in the reserve forest areas without permission.
It may also be noted that there was no fire line in the Kolukkumalai Forest. If a fire line had been created in the area, the trekkers might have escaped. Senguttuvan, a farmer from Gudalur, said that the forest department was concentrating only on vacating people living in forest villages for many decades and to prevent the entry of cattle into the forest. The government has sanctioned permission to engage fire watchers who were missing at the location, he added.
The Forest department has suspended forester Jai Singh on charges of dereliction of duty on Tuesday. Jai Singh was the forester of Munthal. He was also in-charge of Kottakudi forest. The forest department conducted an inquiry with the officials and suspended him for dereliction of duty. Further inquiry is on. Kurangani fire mishap has claimed the lives of 11 persons so far. The trekkers, including 27 from Chennai and 12 from Erode and Tirupur, had entered into the reserved forest area via the Munthal check post. Sources said that only 12 persons had got permission from the forest department officials to enter into Kurangani on Saturday. They stayed in Kolukkumalai in the night and proceeded with the trek on Sunday afternoon.