In a very apt move the central Ministry of Environment and Forest has submitted a set of guidelines which put forward suggestions on how pilgrim activities can be restricted inside forest areas in the country.
The guidelines which were submitted to the Supreme Court as part of the proceedings of a progressing case seek to restrict unregulated surge of pilgrims during festival periods in shrines situated inside protected forest areas.
Sorimuthaiyan Temple inside |
the Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu
They put forward suggestions to the temple authorities to take measures that will decrease the number of pilgrims in order to protect the ecological integrity of the area. The guidelines which are pending notification assert that temple authorities and related departments should implement them within three years of its notification.
Through the guidelines, MoEF also demands that such pilgrim areas should comply with the sections of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and Environmental Protection Act, 1986. Such compliance, according to the guidelines, will help prevent further expansion of such pilgrim centers.It is also suggested that the temple authorities should channel 10 percent of the earning of the temple for the benefit of the local communities with the help of Gram Sabha.
The guidelines have also formulated a detailed framework for planning, developing, implementation and monitoring of eco-tourism in and around natural ecosystems. The guidelines related to ecotourism is also applicable to all protected forest areas in the country which seeks the state governments to take a 10 percent of the turnover of all tourist facilities within a five kilometer range of ecologically sensitive areas as local conservation fee.
Presently there are many pilgrim centers situated inside crucial protected areas in the country, even in Tiger Reserves. Sabarimala in Kerala is situated in Periyar Tiger Reserve while Sorimuthu Ayyanar temple is situated in the core area of Kalakkad Mundanthurai TigerReserve. The influx of pilgrims to these pilgrim centers and related activities have provide to be taking heavy toll of the wild life and ecological integrity of these areas. The guidelines set up by the Ministry may regulate the pilgrim influx to these places.
However, environmentalists are skeptical that the guidelines may be diluted by the government due to pressure from political parties and religious organizations to make it just a scare crow, before it gets officially notified.