They have moved National Tiger Conservation Authority to stop any improvement work on ‘illegal’ road in core habitat of the Srivilliputhur-Megamalai reserve
The administrative and financial sanction for improvement and maintenance of a forest road not in use for decades in the core zone of the Srivilliputhur-Megamalai Tiger Reserve has shocked activists in the southern districts.
Some of them have petitioned the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to stop any improvement work on this “illegal” and “non-existent” road in the core habitat of the newly formed reserve.
Activists say the sanction was accorded during the previous AIADMK rule in February when ₹51.15 crore was allocated for upgrading existing forest roads as bituminous surface roads with cross drainage works. Of this, ₹1.2 crore had been sanctioned for the improvement of the road between Upper Manalar camp shed and Upper Manalar-Old Vellimalai in Theni district for a stretch of 2.2 km.
“The irony is that it is a dilapidated old coop road of 27 km used for protection, perambulation by the Forest Department. The Megamalai reserve forest notification clearly states that there exists only a 1 m right of way on this entire stretch of the coop road of 27 km near Oothakudisa, and, that too, to a length of just 666.8 m. This shows the 1 m right of way is a reserved forest that has been notified as a tiger reserve,” according to the petition submitted to the NTCA.
The fifth tiger reserve in Tamil Nadu, notified on February 8, is crucial in two respects. It will maintain vital forest contiguity between the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala and the Kanniyakumari forests in the extreme south. It will be an extremely important buffer for the spill-over tigers of the Periyar Tiger Reserve.
In the petition, the activists said a high ridge that divides the Periyar Tiger Reserve and the Srivilliputhur-Megamalai Tiger Reserve is the core zone of both reserves covered with dense, evergreen forests.
Also, this high ridge gives birth to Vaigai river in Tamil Nadu and the Mullayar in Kerala.
The Tamil Nadu side of the ridge has many estates, whose access was through this road about 25 years ago. So there was an ever-persistent demand by the estate owners to open up this road for commutation, they pointed out.
An illegal dirt track of 3.5 km was made by the estate owners by cutting through pristine forests and a public interest litigation petition was pending before the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court.
“This 3.5 km illegal dirt track can easily be connected to the proposed road of 2.2 km,” said an activist.
The activists alleged that this is a blatant violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act in a critical tiger habitat, that too, within 20 days of the tiger reserve having been notified. Any road inside the reserve has to be approved by the NTCA and the Supreme Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee, they said. The financial sanction was given solely with the intent of helping the estate owners, with no concern for conservation, they said.
They want the DMK government to initiate an inquiry into the sanction of money for maintenance of this forest road by the previous AIADMK government, though it knew it was a tiger reserve. Senior officials of the Forest Department said the Wildlife Warden of the Megamalai Wildlife Sanctuary had inspected the area after receiving the complaint and a due official process would be followed, without anyone being favoured.
Source: Read Full Article