SABARIMALA: The Forest Department’s double-standard on the Sabarimala land is likely to hit the schemes for improving basic facilities to lakhs of pilgrims. The Forest Department had given a report giving free leverage for using land under the custody of the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) in the action taken report to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). At the same time, it has taken an opposite stance in clearing projects on the same land.
The Forest Department, in the action taken report submitted to the Public Accounts Committee headed by V K Malhotra, noted that a total of 181 hectares of land, including 94 acres at Sannidhanam, was under the custody of the TDB vested with powers to implement projects under the Master Plan without any hindrance.
The action taken report was filed by the Forest Department with the PAC when the Malhotra Committee sought 500 acres of forest land at the Sannidhanam, under the Periyar Tiger Reserve, to implement projects aimed at improving basic facilities for pilgrims. However, the Forest Department reversed the stance by raising an objection to set up a new prasadam complex under the Sabarimala Master Plan and opposed laying of an exclusive tractor road on the Devaswom land parallel to the Valiyanadapandal which would have lessened the burden on thousands of pilgrims.
The need for an exclusive tractor road was suggested by the high-powered committee on Sabarimala Master Plan headed by Justice Sirijagan during the 2018-2019 pilgrimage season. Asked about the lack of clearance for the new prasadam complex on the land under the custody of the Devaswom, Wildlife Warden Surendra Kumar said clearance would be given after scrutiny of the layout plan submitted by the TDB through the governing body of Sabarimala projects headed by the Chief Secretary. Surendra Kumar said the department would study the project and clearance would be given only after studying its environmental impact.
He said many new constructions at the Sannidhanam were in violation of the rules and would have to be demolished. The department will examine the layout plan and clearance will be given to the projects coming under the regulations, Surendra Kumar said. On the action taken report to the PAC, Surendra Kumar said no blanket clearance for the projects was mentioned in the report. The projects to come up under the sanctuary area will be under the purview of rules and regulations, he says.
ABASS flays stance of Forest Department
The Akhila Bharatha Ayyappa Seva Sangham (ABASS) has termed the stance of the Forest Department, including the Periyar Tiger Reserve, as discriminatory and against the Sabarimala pilgrimage.
ABASS general secretary Velayudhan Nair said the attitude of a section of the Forest Department was against implementing projects to improve the basic facilities at Sabarimala.