'Keep Munnar free of garbage,' Expert panel against capturing shop-raiding elephants

Representational image. Photo: Manorama

Kochi: A Kerala High Court-appointed expert committee has recommended keeping the wild elephants, including Padayappa, in Munnar under constant surveillance, and keeping the area free of garbage. In its report submitted to the high court, the committee said the elephants should not be captured for damaging shops.

The report stressed keeping the Munnar area garbage-free. The committee also recommended a survey to check the number of shops, and if they were operating with permission. Padayappa had recently wreaked havoc in Munnar and the neighbouring areas. The local residents named the animal Padayappa after a Rajinikanth movie of the same title for its reported "my way or the highway" attitude.

The high court-appointed committee comprised S Ramesh Babu as its convener, and OP Kaler, Dr Anand Kumar, Dr PS Easa and Pramod Krishnan as its members. The committee also recommended the forest department establish an early-warning system to caution people about wildlife movement. The panchayat should collect details of the hundreds of shops that have come up by the road and near reservoirs. It also suggested checking if any land had been encroached upon, and whether the shops were functioning legally. Illegal shops should be evicted, and relocated in areas where garbage could be effectively managed.

Waste collection

Further, the panel directed the authorities to set up a solar fence around the waste collection centre at Kallar. Steel wires should be used for constructing the fence. Devikulam, Munnar, Santhanpara, and Chinnakanal panchayats should be directed to clear garbage from Rajamala, Mattupetti, Eco-point and other areas on a war footing. The committee also recommended closing roadside shops for a couple of weeks until the accumulated garbage was cleared.

Elephant corridors
The report elaborated on the wild elephant menace in the Chinnakanal-Anayirankal area. It recommended establishing elephant corridors to facilitate the smooth movement of jumbos at the earliest.

The committee noted that the corridors would pass behind Sterling and Club Mahindra resorts and 60 acres of shola forest. A part of the resorts could be opened up to set up the corridors.

The report stated that the corridor would lead to Devikulam and the elephants could forage in the 4,500 square kilometres of reserve forests spread over Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Another option to ameliorate man-wildlife conflict would be to clear the impediments between Anayirankal and Silent Valley. Two colonies, 301 Acre and 80 Acre, should be relocated elsewhere. The committee recommended the immediate relocation of the 301-Acre colony.

Electric fences
Ration shops in the area should have electric fences since they have been easy targets for elephants. Those ration shops prone to elephant attacks should function only during the daytime, and they should be cleared of the provisions by evening. In such a scenario, the elephants would stop visiting and damaging such shops after a while. Mechanisms to scare the elephants away should be confined to human habitations.

The committee also recommended restrictions on tourism activities. The forest department should initiate strict action against those disturbing the elephants. Night travel should be banned on roads barring the national highway. Tourism professionals should ensure that the tourists reach their night stays before 7 pm. If required, police assistance could be sought to implement this norm.

A total of 187 jeeps operate between Suryanelli and Kolukkumala, the panel noted. Each vehicle has been plying three times daily on the route, disturbing the ecology and wildlife. Since no study has been conducted, the District Tourism Promotion Council should rope in an expert agency to conduct research.

The panel recommended restricting the jeep safaris — partially or completely — until the completion of the study. The report also suggested demarcating private and public land in the area.



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