Monday, 12 March 2018

Put out the burning vendetta - TJJ's Exclusive

A conspiracy theory ahead!

With a lot of controversies evolving overnight, the Chennai Trekking Club (CTC), one of the popular trekking and environmental awareness organisations in south India, has come under the scanner as it is said to be the organiser of the trekking event, members of which were caught in the forest fire in Theni district.


It is reported that the trekkers who were killed and suffered burns in the forest fire were taken by CTC for a trek on account of Women’s Day last week.

As soon as news about the tragic incident was out, speculation started to spread. It was said the CTC had organised the trekking camp without proper permission or approval from the authorities.

And it was also reported that the trekkers did not carry proper precautionary equipment to fight such natural disasters. Even as these accusations were raised in the media, the CTC has allegedly vacated the beach house located in VGP Layout in Palavakkam, from where it was said to be operating from.

However, when I visited the house, there seemed to be a twist in the stories revolving around the organisation, as the house was said to be vacated long back and no one stays there.

View of CTC's alleged to be office - C Santhosh
A driver from the house adjacent to CTC’s beach house, said, “The building has been vacant for a long time and no one stays there. Sometimes, a group of youngsters will come here during the weekends and clean it up on the beach side. Even they leave on Sunday after the clean-up operation.”

There was a rumour that CTC removed its board on Sunday night that was hanging outside the building when vacating. A trace of the removed board was also clearly visible outside the bungalow. But, a servant maid from the house opposite CTC’s alleged beach house, said, “It was actually a To Let board that was hanging for a long time some six months ago and the trace of dust was caused by that board.”

Traces of a removed board seen at the gate of the building -  C Santhosh
However, as the allegations were becoming strong, police officials started to carry out investigations in that area.

How CTC operates?

CTC is basically a non-profit volunteering organisation founded by Peter Van Geit, a Belgian. Anyone who is interested to go for treks can approach them and go through some selection process before going for the first trek.

"Firstly, we will have to climb a mountain near Tirisoolam in the city opposite to Airport. After that, if we are able to survive the height, we would be given a fitness certificate. Following this, we would be given theoretical instructions on trekking and safety measures. Later we can go for trekking organised by CTC or other private treks organised by alumni of CTC," elaborated Srinivasan, a former volunteer of CTC.

When asked, how do they avail permissions for trekking, Srinivasan said, "If we are going to trek in a reserve forest, we need to submit documents and would be allowed to go for trek after a thorough check, by the forest department. If we are ok and clear with the documents and inspection, a guide from the forest department will be supporting us throughout the trek."

Source: CTC's website
At the same time, he said, "For normal forests and mountain ranges like Nagala hills, no one needs a permission to walk in and hang out. Permissions are meant only for reserve forests. Even this Kurngani hill forest is not a reserve forest area."

Also, when asked where CTC is official put up, Srinivasan said, "CTC operates totally online and they do not have any office anywhere in Chennai. The beach house is a rented one and is rarely used when volunteers take up beach clean up activities."


The former volunteers also raised a suspicion that, "Any trekker by CTC would be guided to face forest fire. We have faced fire a couple of times and it is so easy to escape. We can easily see or sense forest fire within a distance of 2 kilometers when trekking. So, we will immediately start to walk in the opposite direction. But, when we see this incident, I am really surprised whether this forest fire was a naturally caused one?"

Let's join the dots:

As we all know, politics is omnipresent! For a well organised trekking club like CTC, which has seen a couple of forest fire incidents in the past, this calamity, should have been in their radar if the fire was of usual types. Lets pause this discussion here for a while.

It is a well known fact that, the Central government is so keen in establishing its INO (India-based Neutrino Observatory) in the same location around Bodi West Hills in W.Ghats. The observatory was likely to be suspended as the locals, Tamil nationalists and environmentalists opposed it strongly. But, before suspending, the government was taking serious steps to vacate the villagers.

A few weeks back, there were claims that the Central government purposely did not warn the fishermen who ventured into the sea a day before the landfall of Ockhi cyclone. It was reported that they wanted the fishermen themselves to leave their hamlets to different professions as the government is in the verge of initiating its Sagarmaala project. The aftermath of Jallikattu uprising in Nochikuppam and Nadukuppam and the oil spill along Chennai coast last year too was alleged to be staged by the State for the same reason.

So, if we have the same equation by replacing sea with forest, fishermen with Theni villagers and Sagarmaala with INO, it again could be a clear political vendetta.

And, that was why this immediate 'man-made' fire could not be sensed by trekkers, in which they have a better expertise. And, it was H Raja's admin last week and CTC now, to take the blame.

- Santhosh Mathevan,
Chennai, Mar 12, 2018.