Kodaikanal residents worry over upcoming heliport project

"The operation of aircrafts here would affect the environment in several ways. It would disturb the breeding season of animals and birds," EFECT founder VS Veerapathiran said.
A view of the Kodaikanal Lake.
A view of the Kodaikanal Lake.

DINDIGUL: Residents of Kodaikanal have raised opposition to the heliport project that is likely to be established jointly by the Central and State Governments in Chinnapallam area. Earlier last month, a team of Union government officials had inspected the site, following which people have raised a red flag against the project.

In a bid to boost tourism, the Tamil Nadu government had announced a slew of plans to renovate infrastructure at tourist sites. In September this year, Minister for Tourism M Mathiventhan said a destination development scheme would be established to promote tourism of various kinds, including adventure tourism and eco-tourism. "The government is planning to launch pads for the operation of helicopters at places like Rameswaram, Madurai and Kodaikanal," he said. However, since Kodaikanal is an eco-sensitive zone notified as a wildlife sanctuary under Section 26A1(b) of Wildlife (Protection) Act, the residents here oppose the project.

Speaking to TNIE, Eco-Friendly Environmental Conservation Trust (EFECT) founder VS Veerapathiran said as other hill stations in Tamil Nadu are polluted, a large number of tourists prefer Kodaikanal. "Its nature is still pristine, though projects that are anti-environment are operational here. After the outbreak of Covid-19, and the subsequent lockdowns, a lot of endangered flora and fauna Kodaikanal received a new lease of life. Rare birds like hornbill are easily spotted now. The operation of aircrafts here would affect the environment in several ways. It would disturb the breeding season of animals and birds," he said.

Chinnapallam area, which is a grassland, is surrounded by the Palani Hills Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park on one side, and the Tiger Reserve on the other. "The grassland helps in prevention of soil erosion. There are also court orders against the implementation of projects in grasslands," he pointed out. Further, an extension of commercial activities here has led to many issues, including frequent human-animal conflicts. "Elephants often enter the farmlands and destroy crops. In a recent incident, a farm worker was trampled to death by an elephant in Kodaikanal. If the heliport project is implemented, the animals' shelter will be affected, and they may then even enter residential areas," said S Karuppasami, a farmer. A major concern raised by the farmers during the recent grievance-redressal meeting at the Collectorate was that neither the forest department nor the district administration had raised the red flag against the project so far.

Veerapathiran said the petition he sent to the Chief Minister Cell in this regard was rejected. "The State government should rather implement a lockdown at least for a month every year to help nature restore itself," he added.

In response to the concerns of the residents, officials from the forest department said the project was only in the initial stage. "The location for building the heliport is yet to be finalised. The Union government officials visited Chinnapallam as part of preliminary works only. We could raise our opinions on the project only after we receive a formal correspondence from the government," they said.

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