CHENNAI: With rampant littering of plastic along the 50-km ghat road inside the Anamalai Tiger Reserve (ATR) affecting wildlife, the forest department is mulling the enforcement of a plastic ban along the stretch, like in the Nilgiris, Additional Chief Secretary to Environment, Forests, and Climate Change Department Supriya Sahu told TNIE on Monday.
TNIE travelled the entire stretch from Aliyar check post in Pollachi to Malakkappara check post in Parambikulam on the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border on Sunday evening and found tourists and eateries indiscriminately littering, and violating other forest rules.
At Attakatti, a troop of monkeys was seen queuing up waiting for tourists to feed them, with one of the simians spotted chewing and ingesting a plastic carry bag. Hours after the video of the incident was posted on social media, Sahu instructed district forest officers (DFOs) of all the tiger reserves to intensify vehicular checks.
“A workshop will be conducted for all DFOs in Nilgiris to make them aware of how the ban works. It can be achieved only if all the departments concerned work together. The Coimbatore Corporation, revenue department, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, and forest department will be appraised,” she said.
MG Ganesan, Deputy Director of ATR, said that vehicular checking was intensified at Aliyar check post from Sunday night.
“Additional staff has been deployed to ensure no tourist vehicle carries any plastic items into the tiger reserve. We have installed a plastic shredder machine, and are setting up a drinking water dispenser at the check post,” he said.
The eateries located at Attakatti, the waterfalls area, Iyerpadi, and in Valparai town, which sell plastic items, will, however, pose a challenge to the ban as tourists discard items bought there on the roads, which then find their way into the water streams the wildlife access.
Tourists get dangerously close to animals for selfie
One of the other issues identified on the stretch was tourists stopping their vehicles and taking selfies with wild animals. A group was getting dangerously close to Nilgiri tahr, the State animal of Tamil Nadu, near Attakatti before an anti-poaching watcher came rushing on a bike to send them away.
Another big tourist party was seen getting down near a no-parking area on one of the hairpin bends to click pictures. People were even seen drinking alcohol and discarding the bottles on the roadside inside the reserve area.
This continues to happen even after the Madras High Court directed the TASMAC last month to extend the scheme of buying back empty liquor bottles in TASMAC retail vending shops in hilly areas, including Kodaikanal, Yercaud, Megamalai, Topslip, Valparai, and Koli Hills, and in areas around wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in the State with effect from June 15, 2022.
TASMAC authorities as well as the department of prohibition were also directed to check whether bars are supervised regularly and that they strictly follow the conditions attached to the licences. Sources said it has been a challenge to control the lawbreakers due to the lack of availability of patrol vehicles, insufficient fuel, and manpower shortage which the State government needs to address.