Varkala Cliff portion demolished; sparks widespread outrage among environmental activists

In the wake of frequent incidents of landslides, the collector had shut down the Bali Mandapam.
A portion of the Varkala Cliff is being demolished
A portion of the Varkala Cliff is being demolished Photo | Express

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Sparking widespread outrage among environmental activists, the district administration has demolished a portion of the Varkala Cliff, a geological heritage site acknowledged by the Geographical Survey of India. The action follows a recent directive from the district collector to mitigate landslide hazard near Bali Mandapam at Papanasam cliff, by removing trees and portion of the cliff.

In the wake of frequent incidents of landslides, the collector had shut down the Bali Mandapam. Environmental activists allege that the collector “misused the Disaster Management (DM) Act to demolish the rare geographical formation to protect unauthorised structures including the toilet block and the Bali Mandapam”.

A portion of the Varkala Cliff is being demolished
Thiruvananthapuram district collector orders demolition of Varkala Cliff

The collector invoked sections 26, 30 and 34 of the DM Act, 2005, to demolish the cliff portions. On Friday, a district disaster management authority (DDMA) team demolished the portion of the cliff sandwiched between the toilet block constructed by the tourism department and the Bali Mandapam. A DDMA official told TNIE that a team comprising deputy collector for disaster management, Varkala municipal chairman, senior geologist and district soil conservation officer had conducted an inspection there.

‘Authorities now misusing Disaster Mgmt Act to destroy Varkala cliff’

“It was found that eight coconut trees at the top of the cliff are in a dangerous condition and the top portion of cliff is at the risk of collapsing at any time. The tahsildar also recommended the immediate removal of trees and soil from the top of the cliff which has become unstable near the Bali Mandapam,” said the official.

However, the excavation of the cliff has triggered protests. “Several unauthorised constructions have come up on the Varkala cliff causing heavy damage to the structure. The district administration did use the provisions under the DM Act to protect the cliff or remove the illegal structures. But now, they are using the same Act to destroy the cliff,” alleged Sanjeev S J, Environment Protection and Research Council (EPRC). He said a petition will be filed in the High Court soon.

Sanjeev alleged that the excavation of the cliff is illegal and unacceptable. “The construction of Bali Mandapam and the toilet block were undertaken to destroy the cliff. Both these violations were done by the government agencies. The cliff is a rare geological formation and instead of protecting this, authorities are destroying it. Recently around 40 major violations happened on the cliff by private parties and everything happened right under the nose of the authorities,” Sanjeev said. Around 106 cubic metres of the cliff, measuring 6m in length, 45m in width, and 3m in depth, have been allegedly excavated to lower the cliff height to protect the Bali Mandapam.

Meanwhile, experts said that the DM Act can be used based on the priorities. “If the priority is to protect the cliff, the same sections can be invoked to ban entry and protect it. It can go both ways. Being a heritage and protected site, ideally the government should be taking steps to conserve it,” said a former official of the DDMA.

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