Dense cinchona and silver oak forests covering 3,000 ha in Valparai in the Annamalai hills will be replaced by tea plantations if the state-run Tamil Nadu Plantation Corporation Ltd (TNPCL) has its way.
TNPCL was set up in 1976 to rehabilitate Tamil refugees from tea gardens in Sri Lanka. Since then, TNPCL has planted tea on 600 ha of cinchona land. Cinchona provides raw material for quinine, and the silver oak is grown as a shade tree for the cinchona. The two trees began to be axed on a large scale when the Valparai forests were transferred from the cinchona department to TNPCL in 1990, after a new malaria-drug replacing cinchona was discovered.
Keen on profits, TNPCL decided to develop tea plantations on its land in the Annamalai hills, which already has 27,775 ha of tea plantations. It earned crores from the felling of the trees. Valparai residents estimate 25 truckloads of timber were transported every day till the Madras High Court, acting on a public interest litigation, issued a stay order in November last year.
Despite the ecological degradation of the hills, local residents have not protested TNPCL's proposed move to axe the cinchona forests. "The Corporation's extension programme means 10,000 additional jobs in the Valparai area," explains S Manickam, general secretary of the hill plantation workers union.
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