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Thursday, July 19

Aadi amavasai festival threatens wildlife and ecology of Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

Plastic and litter in a stream in the temple premises. 
Waste is the biggest visible aftermath of the fest, 
says forest officials. 

Heaping up waste

If poaching is an issue which is not yet noticed, waste is the biggest one yet noticed. According to a high ranking official of the Forest Intelligent Squad, Tirunelveli, management of the heaping up waste and its disposal after the festival is a big head ache for the forest authorities after the festival days.

“There will be a lot of plastic waste, especially glasses and packets scattered all over the place. It is a one week long Herculean task to clear them up as we got no help from other agencies except some NGO for the operation. We collect all the waste and then bring trucks to take them down leaving no trace of plastic in the forest area”, says he.

However, the removal of plastic is no mean feat here as a stroll on the odd 10 km road stretch that goes to the temple will show you that plastic litter is everywhere during the festive times, not to mention the temple premises.

Though many study reports in other protected areas have indicated the hazards brought by plastic containers to animals who are lured by the colors and salty taste of the wrappers, such studies are yet to take place in KMTR.

Health issues

The issue of pollution not only threatens the wild life of the crucial tiger reserve here, but also damages the health of devotees and the people in Tirunelveli, turticoin and Virudhanagr district to whom the river is the major water source.

Absence of clear waste management plans and facilities like toilets are making things worse. “People camp in unhygienic conditions. They put up a temporary tent and then cook and eat there itself not finding it an issue that the camp mates are often defecating near the camp areas itself”, says a forest official. “Studies have shown that small children who are carried to the festival get diseases like diarrhea and similar illness owing to eating in unhygienic conditions, said he.
Pilgrim camps inside the forest

A recent study down on the water in river shows that the quality of the water is degrading to alarming levels. According to ATREE open defection, animal slaughtering as part of the rituals, cooking, washing and bathing pollutes the origin of the river during the festival.

They have also found high presence of coliform bacteria near the temple and downstream during the period. According to the study, the Kani tribes who live on the banks in the downstream do not use the water during and after many days of the festival since they have found water borne diseases spreading after every festival season.

A.G. Murugesan, Professor at Manonmaniam Sundaranar University who has been studying the falling water quality of the river also made similar findings recently. According to him a surge in the fecal coliform bacteria level in the water is noticed during the festival period.

According to Indian laws to protect the forests, any tourist activity or any disturbance to the core area of a tiger reserve is not allowed. “That is the major concern with the festival and the increasing turn out of the devotees”, said, an informed source at the office of the Deputy Director, Amba Samudram range.

“The festival has been taking place from a long time back, though not with this much devotee presence, but new notifications from MoEF has put the whole area of the KMTR as a core zone which restrict any such activity that disturbs the wild life. So we are trying to bring down the crowd by enforcing stricter regulations and thorough checking which has considerably brought down the number of people turning up”, said he. Authorities are now mulling over bringing down the number of festival days.

Will it become another Sabarimala?

Sorimuthaiyan Temple is believed to house 1008 deities and is considered very sacred by the Hindus in Tamil Nadu. However, it can be seen that it is not just devotion that brings people here. The whole carnival atmosphere is taking people here, many of them adequately equipped with bottles to keep the spirits high.

However, if proper care is not taken and the pilgrim mayhem is not checked immediately in the coming years, it will be suicidal for the one of the last resorts of the vanishing animal –the tiger- the vehicle of goddess Durga- according to Hindu mythology.

The question is more paramount considering the fact that activists are not writing off the chances of religious groups hijacking the fest and attracting more people here as pilgrim centers are not just meant for gods and pilgrims. if it goes that way, it is undoubted that the fest will be another threatening menace to the tiger reserves in the country just like the pilgrimage to Sabarimala in Kerala which is situated at the heart of Periyar Tiger reserve.

Read more on Aadi Amavasai 2012 coverage

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