Express News Service

COIMBATORE: The path to the Shiva temple, atop the seventh hill of Velliangiri hills in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR), used to be a picturesque landscape but now, it shows a trail of waste that the devotees have left behind.

The terrain, which is a part of the abode of elephants, spotted deer and bison, is lined with biscuit wrappers, paper cups, food containers, and food wrappers. Ironically, the theme for International Day of Forests, which is observed on 21 March, is ‘Forests and sustainable production and consumption’.

The tribal people, who have been engaged by the Coimbatore forest division to check whether devotees have plastic waste with them are unable to do so due to the huge crowd. Compared to other hills, the waste dumped on the sixth and seventh hills is much more. Forest department sources said during the weekends, the number of devotees is more than 23,000. This huge number of visitors were not closely monitored due to staff shortage.

A forest department official said, “Many of the devotees are even leaving their innerwear after having had a bath at the spring on the sixth hill thinking that it is auspicious. It is difficult for us to remove clothes piled up on a hillock. The Shiva temple attracts thousands of devotees from February to the Sivarathiri festival. Last year, we cleared more than 7 tonnes of waste and this year, it has been difficult for us to engage more workers due to a shortage of funds.

We have temporarily employed 20 tribal people, 10 in the day and 10 in night shifts, to manage the crowd. ” The official said they have started charging an entrance fee to make up for the fund crunch. “To pay our workers, we have started charging` 100 as entrance fee from the devotees but it is not compulsory.

Only those who want to pay it can do so. However, after some religious associations opposed the fee, we scrapped it. Even though the temple is controlled by Hindu Religious and Endowment Department (HR&CE), we have not received even one person to manage the crowd. We have also not received any financial support to pay the tribal people managing the crowd.

Meanwhile, the HR&CE department has allowed private parties to collect cash offerings from devotees, ”said the official. When contacted, TK Ashok Kumar District Forest Officer (DFO) said that since the hill comes under the forest department, they have the responsibility to ensure devotees do not dump waste there.

“Despite repeated warnings, devotees continue to litter. Apart from the forest department, devotees who are coming to the temple should be responsible and protect the forest, ”he said. HRCE Joint Commissioner R Senthil Velavan was unavailable for comments on the issue.

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