FOR THE LOVE OF NATURE: Members of Friends of Forest cleaning the Kutladampatti Falls. Photo: A. Shrikumar
Nature lovers from the city and villagers join hands to clean the Kutladampatti waterfall under the ‘Friends of Forest’ initiative.
Armed with gloves and gunny bags, around two dozen men and women marched towards the Kutladampatti waterfall last Sunday to make a difference. After hiking for 800 metres through the Sirumalai Reserve Forest, they were appalled by the state of the waterfall – the only one in the district. No more time could be wasted as the volunteers – an interesting mix of nature lovers from the city, women from the surrounding villages of Kutladampatti, young collegians and elderly citizens — took to the task of cleaning the place. They walked over precarious rocks and the slippery bed of the waterfall, carefully waded through dangerously protruding iron bars to dig out layers of muck, dirt, old clothes, discarded footwear, putrefying masses of rubber, plastic packets of shampoo and soaps, liquor bottles, cigarette packets and what not!
Led by Nihar Ranjan, the District Forest Officer of Madurai, the operation clean up lasted two hours attracting a good number of onlookers and tourists as well who joined in clearing the place. This is the first time perhaps that a massive cleaning of the area has been undertaken, says A. Selvam, a farmer from Samathuvapuram Village. “Though Kutladampatti is a seasonal waterfall, it attracts an average of 100 to 200 visitors daily and during weekends the numbers swell to 500 to 600,” says Selvakumar, who manages the parking bay. Ponnammal Murugan who runs a bajji shop at the entrance to the water falls, says, “We try to do whatever little possible to avoid plastics. I sell the bajjis wrapped in paper only.”
Nihar Ranjan, who has formed a group of like-minded citizens ‘Friends of Forest’ plans to conduct more of such activities regularly. “The idea is to rope in individuals who are interested in the upkeep of the environment, forest and wildlife. They will get an opportunity to take part and assist the department in conservation activities and awareness initiatives. We hope to develop a sensitive citizen task group, whose involvement and service can be availed in times of need.”
The group includes college students, school teachers, bird watchers, homemakers, Veterinary doctors, wildlife rescuers and conservationists.
“Taking part in nature activities like this gives immense satisfaction. It’s a chance to learn and know more, socialise and contribute something to the society,” says Dr. Jayakrishnan, a Veterinary Surgeon, who has worked on rehabilitation of wild and domestic animals. “Apart from the cleaning drive, we also spoke to tourists and sensitised them against littering the place. We got an insight into what they think and feel,” says Rajanna Venkatraman, a dentist from the city. P. Sivaraman, English teacher at Government Middle School, Chittampatti, says, “This is a small step towards giving back to nature. We will be happy to contribute our services for cleaning more such places periodically. Next time, I plan to bring along my students, so that they will learn about the need to keep our environment clean.”
Kutladampatti is one of the 25 eco-tourism sites identified under the Tami Nadu Government’s Greening and Biodiversity project. Says Nihar Rajan, “The nature trail of 800 metres leading up to the falls has been developed and with funds from the government, platforms, railings and other facilities using locally available eco-friendly structures will also be built in the near future.” He has formed an Eco- Development Committee (EDC) at Kutladampatti, with local farmers and house wives in the surrounding areas. The Committee currently has 45 members grouped under Vanavengai, Vanadurgai and Vanamalar. “This will reduce the burden on the department as the EDC will take care of the area and get paid,” says the DFO.
“The objective of the greening and bio-diversity project under which the EDC is formed, is to cause minimum damage to the environment and generate income for the local populace and revenue for the Government. We have planned to levy an entry fee of Rs. Five per person. The collection will be deposited in a bank account, from which the committee members will be paid salaries. They will also be provided a uniform and badge from the Forest department and will be responsible for the overall upkeep of the area. Dustbins will be placed at vantage points to reduce the litter.” – Nihar Ranjan, IFS, District Forest Officer, Madurai.
“As a member of the Eco-Development Committee we can now boldly frisk people and check them for the banned items, like liquor and plastic bottles and bags. Sometimes, we have to deal with men in inebriated mood and they end up fighting with us. Since the falls has multiple entry points, apart from the main approach, more people from the committee will man the area now. The department will help us initially and later we hope to take good care of the falls.” – A. Selvam, farmer and member of EDC
“The EDC has helped us earn a livelihood. Earlier, we worked in agricultural fields and during off season went as casual labourers under the 100 days Rural Employment Scheme. This seems to be a better option as the work doesn’t involve much of physical strain and the income is on par.” – N. Indira, Home maker from Samathuvapuram Village.
“We hope this initiative will prove an eye opener for people who visit the place often. Cooperation from the tourists is important in achieving cleanliness and discipline. A regular monitoring body will also prevent the place from becoming a den for social miscreants.” – P. Haribabu, a volunteer who took part in the cleaning drive.
First published by The Hindu