Tiruvannamalai: HR&CE Dept plans to cut 545 old forest trees, build guest house – Priyanka Thirumurthy

Arunachala Hill

Priyanka ThirumurthyHR&CE Department in a document dated February 27, has ordered the axing of 545 naturally grown trees in the Sona Nathi Thoppu. The land to be razed, belongs to the Arunachaleswarar Temple and contains 22 species of trees. According to the order, … the trees are being razed to construct a tourist guest house. – Priyanka Thirumurthy

Environmentalists in Tiruvannamalai are not new to the fight to save trees along the Girivalam path. Only last year, they were up in arms against the Highways Department that wanted to fell trees to widen the path for pilgrims. An interim order from the National Green Tribunal, directing that not a single tree be cut, came as relief to activists in December. But now, another battle awaits them, in the form of a Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department order.

In a move bound to stoke controversy, the HR&CE Department in a document dated February 27, has ordered the axing of 545 naturally grown trees in the Sona Nathi Thoppu. The land to be razed, belongs to the Arunachaleswarar Temple and contains 22 species of trees. According to the order, accessed by TNM, the trees are being razed to construct a Yatri Nivas (Tourist Guest House) for pilgrims who embark on the Girivalam path.

The path is essentially a 14km road around the sacred Annamalai hill, which is considered to be a form of Lord Shiva. A journey around the hill is undertaken by pilgrims every full moon day of the month. Lakhs of devotees participate in this ritual in Tiruvannamalai.

The move has led to outrage among activists who claim that the order will result in the destruction of untouched land that is home to trees that are over a century old. Moreover, activists allege, it will destroy the habitat of animals and over 40 species of birds that exist in the area.

Kumar AmbayeramActivists in the area, are now questioning the HR&CE department over the need to build a Yatri Nivas, in an area where a plush green canopy is hard to come by. “This is a completely insensitive act. There are enough places to rest for those travelling along the Girivalam path. There are several empty lands that belong to the temple. If you must build a Yatri Nivas, why not build it there?” asks Kumar Ambayeram, an environmentalist based in Tiruvannamalai.

Activists claim that they are currently contemplating taking the matter to court, if there is a move to execute the HR&CE’s order.

“This is the only patch of trees that survives even during a drought. We all know how dry this area can get. It is a safe haven for animals and birds. You can’t ruin greenery when it is already scarce,” he argues.

Activists further claim that this order comes at a time when afforestation programmes taken up by the Forest department are bearing fruit. According to The Hindu, the forest department has planted saplings in 275 acres over the years. In addition to this in 2010, they began a drive to plant 50,000 saplings in 260 hectares of the Adi Annamalai reserve forests. “After decades worth of efforts, the region is becoming greener. At such a time, this is a big blow,” says one environmentalist, under the condition of anonymity.

“The trees in the land under the Arunachaleswarar temple are the only ones that have stood there for decades naturally. The trees there are extremely tall and wide. It will take three people to cover the girth of one tree with their arms. Building a Yatri Nivas is just not a good enough reason to destroy this hotspot of biodiversity,” he argues.

If they were to go through with the instructions in the order, 22 species including Palm, Neem, Coconut and varieties of mango will be felled.

Despite attempts by TNM to contact the Commissioner of the HR&CE Department, he was unavailable for comment. – The News Minute, 6 March 2017

»  Priyanka Thirumurthy is a reporter for The News Minute.

Girivalam Protest

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6 Responses

  1. HR&CE dept axes permission to fell 545 trees in Tiruvannamalai – Shanmughasundaram J. – TNN – Mar 10, 2017

    TIRUVANNAMALAI: The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR & CE) department has issued an order against felling of trees along the girivalam path in Tiruvannamalai for the construction of a tourist guest house (yatri nivas). The department has taken the decision following strong protests from environmentalists, devotees and political parties.

    Commissioner of the department Veera Shanmuga Moni issued the order cancelling the permission given to joint commissioner (JC) of HR & CE – cum- executive officer (EO) of Sri Arunachaleswarar Temple Hari Priya to fell 545 trees in Sonananthi Thoppu in Aanaipiranthan village for construction of a yatri nivas.

    Commissioner, in an official communication on February 28, instructed the JC to grant permission to the public works department to fell 545 trees of 22 varieties.

    However, it was met with a strong protests and criticism from various quarters. Several organisations and forums staged protests and demonstrations demanding the HR & CE department to look for an alternative site for the project.

    Following this, commissioner Moni issued the fresh order cancelling the earlier one. He also instructed Hari Priya not to execute the earlier order.

    Moni, in the official communication, has also instructed the JC (Hari Priya) that further course of action would be taken based on the instruction of district collector Prashant M Wadnere.

    Citing the commissioner’s order, the JC on Friday served a notice to the PWD regarding the issue.

  2. Tiruvannamalai Dharna March 10, 2017

    Dharna against felling of trees today – Staff Reporter – The Hindu – Tiruvannamalai – 10 March 2017

    Activists also plan to conduct signature campaign

    Campaign against the plan to cut 545 trees in Sona Nathi forest here gathers momentum with the activists all set to stage a day-long dharna in front of Anna statue here on Friday.

    The Girivalam Path Environment Protection Committee, an umbrella organisation of different political, social and environment protection groups, convened a consultative meeting to explore ways to hold protests against the project.

    Youngsters who have carried out voluntary activities to preserve water bodies, those who participated in Jallikattu protests, those who have concerns for environment and sustainable living and leftist activists have come together.

    They held two-day campaign in 50 places against the project. They also planned to conduct a signature campaign during full moon day. Possibility of approaching court on behalf of the movement was also discussed.

    On Wednesday and Thursday, youngsters took part in the street corner campaigning. Motorbike rallies and door-to-door campaigns were also held.

    The group represented by different civil society groups convened again on Thursday evening to take stock of the situation.

    K.Balaji, one of the activists, said people were sympathetic to the cause and were against the proposal to cut trees to construct a guest house.

    Vaiko opposes move

    Meanwhile, MDMK general secretary Vaiko on Thursday condemned the State government’s move to cut down trees to construct guest house for devotees on a land belonging to the Sri Arunachaleswarar temple in Tiruvannamalai district.

    The move would affect the environment, he said, and sought Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami’s intervention to stop the proposal.

    Instead, an alternative site could be looked at, Mr. Vaiko added.

  3. kind attn: Priyankathirumurthy                           Dear madam,                                                      I read your news in your news channel regarding the cutting of trees in thiruvannamalai district . we hindhus stand separated in all the issues. please contact me thru this whatsapp no +917708043476. I will arrange for the group of people interested in preseving the forest and trees. expecting your reply.Durairaaj sreevarshan

    • Contact the author on her Twitter account @priyankathiru.

      The whole town protested the tree cutting yesterday, even closing some shops. Today the college students plan a major protest demonstration by the Kamaraj statue.

      The temple owns land everywhere in the town. A plot without forest trees on it can be easily found.

      It is obvious that the people behind the tree cutting are after the trees. They are worth lakhs in the market. The building of an unnecessary star guest house 8 km from the temple entrance is just an excuse to cut the trees and sell them.

      The temple executive officer, who is a political appointee made by the HR&CE Dept, should be removed immediately.

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