The ambitious Sabarimala ropeway project, aiming to attract tourists to the abode of Lord Ayyappa and facilitate movement of goods over the difficult terrain, has run into fresh controversy, with the forest department rejecting the ecological impact study of the project as frivolous.
The report, prepared by Delhi-based Perfacto Enviro Solutions on behalf of Eighteenth Step Damodar Cable Cars Private Ltd, the company seeking to implement the project, concludes that it will require only 5 hectares of land and felling of 250 trees. But it fails to mention the massive floods of 2018, which had devastated the Pampa basin, including the pilgrim facilities at the foothills of Sabarimala.
In fact, the study describes Ranni Taluk, where Sabarimala is located, as less prone to flood threats.
Ranni was among the places that saw the maximum devastation in the deluge, the likes of which were never experienced in the last 100 years.
The forest department has described the report as half-cooked and prepared with pre-conceived notions that are meant to help the project seek environmental and other clearances. The report also fails to assess the impact on the Periyar Tiger Reserve, of which some of the Sabarimala hills are a part.
The Periyar Reserve authorities have already registered their opposition to the project, saying it will upset the delicate balance in the sensitive reserve area.
The project, estimated to cost Rs 50 crore and covering a distance of 2.7 km, hopes to attract large numbers of tourists, with the accompanying business establishments and employment opportunities. The protagonists further argue that the ropeway could be used for rescue operations in the event of emergencies at Sannidhanam, where the sanctum sanctorum of the Ayyappa shrine is situated.
There have been several incidents in the past at the hill top, including stampedes, involving significant loss of lives and the pro-project lobby is using it as another argument in favour of the ropeway.
A request for clearance for the soil test has been submitted by the Devaswom authorities on behalf of the Sabarimala High-Power Committee headed by a former High Court Judge. However, the tiger reserve authorities have been lukewarm to the idea.
The chief wildlife warden of the reserve has cited the threat to the forest flora and fauna for the delay in granting permission to conduct soil testing in the area. The location survey for the project was earlier conducted by a joint team of the forest department, tiger reserve and the Devaswom Board, in charge of the administration of Sabarimala temple.