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P T Mohanan Pillai | Express News Service | Sabarimala | Nov 6, 2017:: Thousands of pilgrims who opt for the traditional forest trekking path of Erumely-Azhutha-Karimala to Sabarimala face fleecing by hoteliers and vendors during the two-month-long pilgrimage season.
The 500-odd hotels and shops run in the name of eco-development committees (EDCs), under the control of the Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) of the Forest and Wildlife Department, levy exorbitant rates on food items on the hapless pilgrims. A majority of the merchants who run the EDS shops actually belong to Pampa Valley, Mukkoottuthara and even from Ranni-Perunad, outside the fringe areas of the forest.
With the traditional forest route spanning a distance of about 30 km from Azhutha to Pampa through Kallidamkunnu, Karimala and Valiyanavattom, and spread over Kottayam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta districts, there is hardly any coordination at the inter-district level to protect the interests of pilgrims.
The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) has failed to provide basic facilities, including free food, potable water and toilets in any of the camp centres at Azhutha Kallidamkunnu, Vellaramchetta, Inchiparakotta and Karimala. The TDB has not yet even sought permission from the Forest Department to open free service facilities at the camp centres.
The sole free service camp facility on the traditional path belongs to the Akhila Bharatha Ayyappa Seva Sangham (ABASS) at Karimala, run by 90-year-old ABASS volunteer Gurumurthy Chettiar of Salem, for the last three decades.
Though the plight of the thousands of pilgrims who trek the traditional forest path every day during the pilgrimage season has been brought to the attention of the government at the Sabarimala review meetings over the past several years, hardly any initiative was taken by authorities to look into their problems till date.
Aftermath of tragedy
The Sathram-Pulmedu-Sannidhanam forest route is another traditional forest path that needs the attention of government authorities. Hundreds of pilgrims who come for the darsan of Lord Ayyappa through the route have no access to basic facilities, including potable water.
While about 20 EDC shops functioned on the route, the Forest Department stepped in and denied permission to all outlets on the route following the Pulmedu tragedy of January 2011 in which 106 pilgrims were killed in a stampede. Except for a makeshift shop at Pulmedu, there is no other outlet to provide food or beverages here.
ABASS flays anti-pilgrim attitude
The ABASS flayed the Forest Department for its failure to give permission to open a facility to provide free service to pilgrims opting for the traditional Karimala and Sathram forest route to Sabarimala. ABASS vice-president D Vijayakumar said the department denied permission to the sangham to open a free food facility at Uppupara where they have had a free service centre for the past two decades.
Post Pulmedu tragedy, ABASS was not allowed to open the free facility, affecting thousands of pilgrims during Makaravilakku, Vijayakumar said.
Courtesy: TNIE & The Hindu.