Indefinite closure of Wayanad eco-tourism centres leaves stakeholders in the lurch

The awe-inspiring Meenmutty waterfall is situated near Kattukunnu and the Banasura mountains. Photo: Shutterstock/Chaithanya Krishnan

Wayanad: The closure of almost a dozen eco-tourism centres functioning within the jungle zones of Wayanad has left its stakeholders in dire straits. On account of the mounting human-animal conflict in the district, the High Court on February 17 ordered the closure of several eco-tourism centres.

Those running tea shops, handicraft outlets, and forest and local farm product shops have taken a major hit to their business. 'Homely food' units run by Kudumbashree were also closed for nearly three months.

Moreover, the Forest Development Agency (FDA), the apex body of the Eco-Development Committees constituted by people in the area under each Forest Division, also incurred losses worth crores of rupees. Vehicle drivers, tourist guides and other members of the eco-development committee have been struggling to make both ends meet.

The High Court order was issued soon after the death of Vellachalil Paul, an employee of the Kuruva Eco-tourism Centre, by a herd of elephants on February 15.

The major eco-tourism centres that closed down since the incident are Soochippara Water Falls, Chembra Peak Trekking Trail, Kuruva Islands, Meenmutty Waterfalls (all under the South Wayanad Forest Division), Muthanga Jungle Safari and Tholppetti Eco-Tourism Centre (both under the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary), Brahmagiri Trail, Muneeswarankunnu Trekking Trail and Meenmutti Waterfalls at Korome (under North Wayanad Forest Division).

According to K A Anilkumar, president, Chembra Peak Eco-Development Committee, the daily collection from Chembra alone is Rs 80,000 to Rs 1 lakh and the centre is open daily. “Only during extreme summer and peak monsoon would there be a dip in collection,” he said. The centre has a regular flow of youngsters trekking the Chembra Peak.

Another forest official, who preferred to remain anonymous, said the daily collection from Kuruva Islands was between Rs 2 lakh to Rs 4 lakh.

However, the forest authorities said it is up to the High Court to decide as the court suo motu took up the issue as there was much hue and cry over the recurring wildlife attacks in the district.

Recently, there was an agitation by the people in the area demanding the immediate opening of the centres. Wayanad Wildlife Warden Dinesh Kumar told Onmanorama that though attached to the forest department, the tourism operations are carried out independently by the FDAs. “Moves are afoot from various quarters to get the centres opened,” he said, adding the stakeholders should approach the High Court to get the ban lifted.

Normally, the centres are closed a few days every year during peak summer as a preemptive step to check for wildfires. This is the first time all the centres have remained closed for so long.

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