IDUKKI: Deprived of food, wildlife in Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) is under threat that challenges their ability to survive following large areas getting inundated, due to Tamil Nadu retaining the water level at close to 142 feet. Tourism in PTR is directly linked to wildlife and any harm to the habitat would crush the tourism industry. This would risk the livelihood of a large number of people linked to the tourism industry, sources in PTR told ‘Express.’
Any harm to tourism due to the voluntary act of Tamil Nadu is an infringement of the agreement entered into by Tamil Nadu and Kerala over a century ago, under which Tamil Nadu could use the water for irrigation with Kerala having the right to fishing and promoting of tourism. Tamil Nadu remaining defiant on not reducing the water level has brought huge areas of the forest under water damaging the biodiversity of PTR, sources said.
Due to inundation, grasslands and marshy areas have become inaccessible to wildlife. Preservation of grasslands is essential for the survival of the wildlife, C Babu, deputy director, PTR (W) officiating for the field director, Project Tiger, said. Herbivores like deer and gaur come to these areas for their food and it is here the carnivores hunt them down, he said. Shockingly, these animals have retreated deep into the forest as they can no longer find food or cover. This is a stress to the wildlife habitat when the ecosystem drastically changes. There is a limit for human intervention to provide relief to these animals under such conditions. The only way is to restore status quo of the situation, he said.
The water level reaching this mark had occurred in 1979, which was reduced to 136 feet in the wake of collapse of the Machchu-II dam in Morbi town in Rajkot, Gujarat, killing hundreds of people. It remains to be seen if the wildlife would be able to cope with the situation or it would have catastrophic effects, he said. If the water level affects the wildlife, it is definitely going to impact the tourism industry in a negative way as tourists mainly visit Thekkady for boating to see wildlife. The increase in water level has caused panic among tourists. If the tourism sector is affected, then Tamil Nadu remains answerable to this, sources said.
The increase in water level has also affected tribals living inside the forest under the Central Tribal Protection Act. This is also a violation of the Forest Rights Act of the tribals who have been living in the two hamlets of Mannakudy and Palliakudy for centuries. There are a total of 650 families in these hamlets out of which Mannakudy has a maximum of 484 families, P Biju, president of Kerala Mannan Samudaya Sanghadana, said. He said that at present there is no problem as water has not reached their areas but it could happen any time, he said. This would also affect the studies of children from the hamlets studying in Tribal UP School and Government HS School, Kumily.