a crucial flash point in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.

O the mighty, one who clears the obstacle, paves the way for good omen and prosperity- goes the saying denoting to one of most revered idol in the Indian subcontinent. The nomenclature of the Ganesha Ganapathy and Vinayaka, these gods are well and truly represented by the living genre of ELEPHAS MAXIMUS INDICUS. Once this  majestic mammal  reigned over the length and breath of the Indian peninsulas, but now in the confines of fragmented  island habitats they are feared marauder in their own heartlands, in plain words they have no where to go!


In the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR) east of Gudalur the Sigur Plateau unfolds itself to a  geographical transition flanked on either side by two different genre of vegetation, on the western side the ever green tropical growths fed by the South west monsoon  running across Devala, Nilambur as far as Silent Valley National Park near Mannarghat and  fanning out till Wynad in the northwest, on the eastern side vegetated mostly of  shrubby forests which falls under the rain shadow of the Nilgiri massif stretching all way to Sathyamangalam and Talavadi this contagious range precipitating on to various wildlife sanctuaries like Mudumalai, Bandipur, Wynad, Muntanga, Silent Valley, The Nilgiri Eastern Ghats Elephant Reserve and the proposed Sujalkuttai Blackbuck sanctuary. These interconnected sanctuaries put together constitutes the largest elephant density in the Southern India and it is here the Western Ghats meets the Eastern Ghats, amidst such a diverse topographical rendering Sigur Plateau gains significance in forming a pivotal getaway for elephants, in its circumvent migratory path  from western side to the eastern side till Attapady (Kerala) in search of  warmth and to dodge  the southwest monsoons onslaught, as the water scarcity and the humidity take its toll they revert back to the western side.

To protect and facilitate this seasonal migration of elephants The Nilgiri Forest Division has zealously pursued conservation programs to monitor poaching activities and to eradicate cattle stock from the vicinity (mainly non milching bovines herded for their dung) as they annihilate the sprouting green undergrowths of the forests, tackling these two menace made up for the core conservation work until now, however the present scenario in this region has woes in plenty. Moyor river originating in the highland of Nilgiris which flows thru this plateau cradled in a canyon uniquely described as Mysore Ditch a deep plunging gorge starting from Mudumalai basin, this ravines system stretch till Tengumarada, lined with dense riparian forests all along the river course forming the core area beaming with endemic plant life and home to Indian Gaur, Spotted Deer, Black Buck, Tigers, Wild Dogs, King Vulture and many more endangered species. Buffered by the Sathyamangalam forests this sensitive transact is now begging to be spared from many sociopolitical and economic exploits. One of the prominent and the oldest being the collective will of the Gudalur public for a road link cutting across this plateau to reach Sathyamangalam via Masnigudi, it would save Gudalur residents traveling time to access the Coimbatore plains without crossing over the Nilgiri Massif. The politicos leverage it as a bankable issue for a mandate. However the Forest Department has impeded their will clinging on to The Indian Forest Act 1972, the now hibernating desire may surface when and where the election lines are drawn again. If this is a localised pursuit a more grandiose plans is etched by The Indian Railways to link Chamarajnagar to Sathyamangalam through this fragile habitat, the interconnecting of this stretch will be economically beneficial for both Karnataka and Tamilnadu claims Mr Velu Union Minister of State for Railways, again it is a political brinkmanship though it has become common occurrence in recent times for the trains to run over elephants in states like West Bengal, Uttaranchal and Orissa. Ironically the Railway authorities seems to have discounted these as mere accidents, whereas the change in the elephants behavioural pattern is evident from the raising human elephant conflict in the recent times all along its migratory path, if the rail link goes thru it is sure to mate out irreversible carnage razing down 50 Kms long stretch of precious forests ecosystem so much so it would eventually disintegrate the entire biodiversity importance of this region, apart from aggravating more such human elephant conflicts in the area which is getting highly fragmented and elephants probing for  thoroughfare in these bottle neck patches deviates to unheard of places. The forest department along with NGO’s plea to explore for other alternative routes to this project stands in the appellate of Central Empowering Committee to decide the fate of this rail link. Then there is this Speculations rift on a Neutrino Observatory Centre to be setup near Masinagudi in Pykara Ultimate Stage Hydro Electric Project (PUSHUP), by the Department of Atomic Energy if commissioned it would mean deep tunnelling work shoving out tonnes of rock debris to be dumped in the forests lands, more human and equipment presence resulting in dilution of biodiversity.          

If one thinks that these are eventualities that might descend on this forest lands in the near future one department is already inside the core area wrecking considerable mayhem. The Tamil Nadu Police Special Task Force. (STF), a specialized wing formed to solely capture the erstwhile forest brigand Veerappan, in the aftermath of his demise the STF has over stayed here and converted Mangalapatti, (Nilgiri Forest Divisions last out post 9 km from Thengumarada) in to a massive training camp that can accommodate more then 250 personals. A well marked camp site has sprung up clearing trees in the core area along the Moyor River banks – landscaped, trenched and chain link fenced encampment serving for more then two years now as a advanced training camp of STF. The Forest Department as stringent custodian of this protected zone has made a mockery of its rulebooks extending a free movement to the STF. The training includes a mock combing operation where 8 to 10 teams each with 15 member fan out deeper in to the core areas on regular basis, no restrictions for the heavy trucks to ply from Mangalapatti to Bhavani Sagar, the prolonged presence of this camp has had an adverse impact on the wildlife and elephants in particular driving them in to agitated state with the already choked up movement in the fringe areas and uneasiness in the core area  it is a round about loss of habitat leading to  growing elephant ruckus, be it the habitual crop raiding or threat to human settlements the much debated development at what cost ? Looms large needless to say government’s pressure to give in to the political will and the demographic aspiration, which what is most likely to happen. Unless the bureaucracy and planners foresee the imperative consequence, fallouts and thereby indoctrinating the critical importance of conserving places of natural wealth such as Sigur plateau. It would be a greater loss to us in the broader picture then for the elephants.

 posted on 18-11-2007

For further reading check out the Below links

 Shaji's countercurrents.org 

Thekaekara's Tehelka Article

  THEKAEKARA's Science or Tiger

Trouble in the Jambo Land by Vinoj 

INO teams Rejoinder in The Hindu