Forest Department to set grasslands on fire
SABARIMALA, Nov. 10, 2008: The Forest Department is planning controlled burning of grass lands at Uppupara near Sabarimala in the Periyar Tiger Reserve.

This is described as a measure to prevent fires on the grasslands during the pilgrimage season at Sabarimala starting this month. Apparently, the Department is unable to post enough watchers to keep tab on fires caused by pilgrims despite mobilisation of local committees such as the ecodevelopment committees and vana samraskhana samithis. It also wants to provide pilgrims space for the pilgrims to watch the appearance of 'Makara Jyothi' in January next year. This is in addition to the parking ground and other facilities being provided by the Department to the pilgrims.

Controlled fires set by the Department has always been controversial. Last year, the Department had used controlled burning near Vallakkadavu in the sanctuary and the fire went out of control destroying much vegetation. There were also allegation that this was the deliberate act on some officials.

Opinions differ on whether controlled burning as a measure for fire prevention is advisable in Kerala where grasslands are limited in area. The method is used in some Western countries and Australia where very large areas needed to be protected from fires. However, loss of biodiversity could occur in Kerala on account of the limited extend of grasslands if they are set on fire. Though grasses would sprout again when the rain comes, that cannot be said about several other species. In fact, there is a view that the the high elevation grasslands are the result of fire degradation of the shola (montane) forests.(The other view is that the sholas and grasslands which exist in certain proportion together form a climatic climax.)

Update: The grasslands were set on fire as per plan during the Sabarimala season
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