Pilgrim's regress

Sabrimala rituals spell trouble for Kerala's Periyar reserve

By Deepa Kozhisseri
Published: Tuesday 15 November 2005

-- the coming Sabrimala season from November 16, 2005, to the end of January will see more developments in the Periyar Tiger Reserve (ptr) which is home to the Ayappa shrine, which draws thousands of pilgrims. The ever-increasing amenities pose challenges to the conservation of the forest.

A meeting convened by Kerala cm, decided that the 110 hectares (ha) of forestland at Nillakal, that is now a base camp for pilgrims, would get electricity through underground cables, increased parking space and construct 400 toilets. "We now have 30 acres of land for parking as against 20 acres,'' said Raman Nair, President of the Travancore Dewasom Board, that runs the shrine. Parking capacity was 10,000 vehicles -- one of the largest in the country. The Board insisted that pilgrims take priority over the forest.

Sabrimala is slated for infrastructral development and environment management. The Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Ltd, is undertaking the project with its subsidiary Ecosmart India Ltd. A master plan being prepared is estimated at Rs 1000 crore. ptr supports the Ecosmart plan as it gives priority to conservation goals but fear tampering to satisfy the construction lobby.

With the forest not on the Board's priority list, Sabrimala shrine is far from adopting a conservation model that could make the pilgrimage unique.

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