Widening girivalam path in Tiruvannamalai will destroy ecosystem – Karthikeyan Hemalatha

Arunachala Hill

Karthikeyan Hemalatha“Officials do not understand the importance of this ecosystem and are blindly cutting down trees,” said writer Kumar Ambayeran.

The Tamil Nadu government’s move to widen the girivalam path in Tiruvannamalai by felling trees would affect the ecosystem of the area, said residents on Monday.

A group of farmers and others from Tiruvannamalai were in Chennai on Monday in connection with a hearing on the issue in the southern bench of the National Green Tribunal. However, the NGT hearing didn’t take place, and it has been postponed to Thursday.

The government wants to widen the 14 km girivalam path to accommodate more pilgrims during full moon nights when the crowd is at its peak. Last week, the Thiruvannamalai collector submitted a report to the southern bench of the NGT saying only 125 trees would be cut. According to the report, every full moon night, several lakh devotees walk on a 14 km path around the [Arunachala Hill and] Arunachaleshwar Temple. Earlier, 847 trees had been identified by the highways department, out of which Arunachaleshwar Temple347 trees were required to be cut. But, after an inspection, the number was reduced to 218. Finally, it was decided to cut only 125 “non-valuable trees,” for which the revenue divisional officer granted permission.

The residents said 4 kms of the 14 kms stretch is a forest and should not be disturbed. “There are six lakes in these 4 km. They act like a reservoir and store water that drains down from the mountain and provides life to the ecology. The government wants to build a road over it, and this will destroy everything,” said K. Murugan who acted in the Tamil movie Cuckoo.

They said cutting the trees would affect the entire ecosystem. “These are naturally formed forests and each tree has its own intricate ecosystem. There are both migratory and indigenous birds that depend on these trees. Officials do not understand the importance of this ecosystem and are blindly cutting down trees,” said writer Kumar Ambayeran.

“All our medical needs are met by the forest we live in. We use naval (jamun) seeds to control our blood sugar levels and thuthuvalai (purple pea eggplant) to cure cough and cold of our children,” said E. Rajamani, a farmer. – The Times of India, 25 July 2016

» Karthikeyan Hemalatha reports for The Times of India.

Arunachala girivalam path forest area

Arunachala Girivalam Path

Girivalam Protest

Girivalam Protest

Giri pradakshina of Arunachala Hill

Sign Petition!

3 Responses

  1. The death of 8 wild elephants in TN in the last one month alone is because the central government and the state government have degraded forests, and destroyed elephant corridors with highways and railway tracks. Destroying the forest to widen the gitivalam path is just another senseless and criminal destruction of the environment. Only violent resistance by local communities can check this wanton rampage.

  2. Rtd IFS officer to probe Girivalam tree felling – By S. V. Krishna Chaitanya – The New Indian Express – 29th July 2016

    CHENNAI: Widenting the Girivalam path at the Arunachala Hills in Tiruvannamalai, which is mired in controversy over felling of trees, is to be reviewed by an expert panel, headed by a retired IFS officer. The panel is yet to be appointed.

    Though locals and activists pressed for cancelling the work that would entail cutting 125 full-grown trees, the southern bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT) declined while assuring them to protect the green cover in the hills.

    After considering the concerns expressed by local villagers during the hearing of a petition filed by S Krishna Kumar, the bench comprising judicial member P Jyothimani and expert member PS Rao observed that the government was correct on widening the Girivalam path.

    “Yes, so far no untoward incident was reported. But, we can’t wait for a stampede to happen, which we see often in shrines in North India. Considering the massive crowds witnessed especially during every full moon night and during ‘Karthigai Deepam Mahotsavam’, there is a need to widen the pathway. The project can’t be stalled,” justice Jyothimani said categorically.

    However, the expert committee, yet to be appointed, would conduct a case by case study of these 125 trees so as to ensure that not a single tree is cut unnecessarily. “No tree will be allowed to be felled in the Sonagiri forest area, which is an ecologically sensitive belt in the entire 14-km stretch,” the bench assured.

    According to the report submitted by Tiruvanamalai district collector earlier, lakhs of pilgrims undertake circumambulation around the 14-km path of the famed Arunachaleswarar temple. The existing path was inadequate to accommodate the sea of devotees, making the widening of the path necessary. This would also facilitate movement of emergency vehicles.

    The tribunal on Thursday said Girivalam should have a dedicated lane for emergency vehicles like ambulances especially during peak season. The tribunal was handicapped in passing appropriate orders since the special government pleader Abdul Salem, representing the State government and other departments, resigned for unknown reason while Tiruvanamalai district collector A Gnanasekhar had been transferred to Cuddalore on Wednesday.

    The expert panel will be appointed during the next hearing on August 17.

    Highways department seeks modification in interim stay

    Meanwhile, the Highways Department, is executing the project, sought modification in the interim stay passed by the NGT. Jayasekharan, Tiruvanamalai Divisional Engineer, Highways Department, told Express that the collector has assured in his affidavit that no tree would be felled in Sonagiri forest area, which forms 5.2 km out of total 14 km.

    “Let the tribunal decide related to works in Sonagiri forest area, but we request the activists and the court not to stall the work in the remaining 9 km. The stay order has hampered the work in the entire 14 km, which is leading to unnecessary cost escalations,” he said.

    The proposed expansion is divided into five works. Pondy-Krishnagiri Road, Sonagiri forest area, Hill round road, Kanji road and Anna arch road. Majority of widening has been already carried out except in Sonagiri forest area. “Only finishing works are pending. Only 6 trees were felled so far. Other roads are urbanised and there is no threat to environment. People will benefit if the project is completed,” the official said.

    Separate census to be carried out

    Renowned photographer Dev Gogoi said he would carry separate census with the help of locals on the number of trees felled and submit it before the tribunal at the next hearing.

    “Every tree is part of a 600-year-old heritage attached to the sacred hill. Many are several hundred years old. To our estimate, 50 trees are already cut. The footpath that the contractors are laying is unscientific covering the root area, harming growth of the trees. If you cut a 300-year-old banyan tree that can shelter 50 pilgrims and compensate with 10 saplings, what purpose will it serve?” he asked.

    • The Highways Dept and District Administration are not telling the whole truth about their plan for widening the Girivalam Path.

      They want to widen the road around the sacred hill sufficiently enough to allow a divider to be put down the center of the road. The district authorities including the police believe they will be able to keep pilgrims on one side of the divider and allow vehicle traffic of all kinds—not just emergency vehicles—to ply on the other side.

      In practice this will not work. Pilgrims in their thousands occupy every available space on the road when they are moving around the hill, and neither the district authorities or Sri Arunachaleshwar Himself can keep the pilgrims on one side of the road if there is space to walk on the other side. The half-road space which will be available to the circumambulating pilgrims will be a much narrower space than the full width of the road as it is built now.

      There is also the issue of the dozens of temples and small shrines, including samadhis of mahatmas, that line the roadside around the hill. Are they to be uprooted and discarded too, like the trees that have already been wantonly destroyed?

      India is famous for its knowledge and ability to control moving crowds of pilgrims (though there have been occasional accidents too). But this knowledge and experience is not being applied here by the concerned district authorities, and has nothing to do with the criminal cutting of trees and mindless destruction of the sacred forest surrounding Arunachala Hill.

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