Eco-disaster in Kodaikanal

eco-disaster Kodaikanal is a victim of eco-tourism. Apart from the infamous mercury poisoning incident, the hills are home to several problems from water shortage, pollution to deforestation, notes Divya Karnad

A thin figure bent over the broom greets us when we arrive at the gate of a quaint cottage near Kodaikanal. Ulrike, German-born and Indian by naturalisation, fell in love with the place when she came here over a decade ago. She even built herself a house, brick-by-brick. The property is framed by shola forest. 

“The tourists here are ruining everything,” she says. The Palni Hills recorded deficit rainfall this year, an additional worry. Already residents are facing water shortages. “It’s not just the noise and pollution, tourism is a real environmental disaster here,” says Ulrike.

Kodaikanal is no stranger to environmental problems; the ecosystem is still recovering from the effects of mercury poisoning. Starting in 1984, the mercury thermometer factory owned then by Ponds and subsequently bought over by Hindustan Lever, now Unilever, spewed dangerous levels of mercury into the air, water and soil. Until the expose following a study from the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), a campaign by Greenpeace and a study by the Indian People’s tribunal headed by Justice SN Bhargava in 2003, when the factory was forced to shut down, more than 9.6 times the accepted levels of mercury was dumped into the environment.

The DAE study also confirmed the spread of mercury into pristine forests nearby and to lakes like Berijam and others, over 20 km away. The Supreme Court had ordered the company to remedy the situation by the construction of a hospital meant to specialise in treating the mercury afflicted. This is yet to materialise. “None of the doctors in town accept mercury poisoning as a cause for ailments here,” says Andy, a resident of Vattakanal.

Mercury-contaminated glass waste being packed at HLL's scrapyard for shipment to the United States, on the orders of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board in March 2003.

The famous ‘Kodai Lake’ contains dangerously high levels of mercury both in the water and the underlying silt. However, despite the SC directive, there has been no effort to combat the mercury poisoning. There are no signboards that display the dangers of the lake waters. In fact, there is no mention of mercury anywhere, except in hushed tones, within the homes of the chronically ill.  

Then, there is the question of deforestation. The land mafia converts any remaining forests into hotels and other tourism infrastructure. With no forested watersheds left, streams are drying up or being sucked into the borewells of hoteliers. With the centre of the town deemed too crowded, tourists are heading to the outskirts. “There is a new kind of tourism now, I think its called drug-induced-tourism,” says a resident of the village of Vattakanal.

“Rave parties have become the rage,” says Ulrike. “Tourists say Kodaikanal is better than Goa for the ‘stuff’”.  The area has experienced the worst of the new wave of Israeli tourists, with home stays dotting the landscape, garbage piling up and municipal facilities at an abysmal level. “Tourist vehicles have resulted in the road caving in. The authorities patched it up just a few months ago, and already the road is sinking. It will definitely wash away with the next rain,” say residents. Kodaikanal has a lot to offer the hallucinogenic thrill seeker, besides ganja. Ganja is sourced from far away in the plains, while mushrooms are locally grown, so drugs are an in-your-face part of life in this hill station. Touts openly solicit customers at the bus stand.  A study from the University of Exeter found that mosses, lichens and fungi are bio-indicators that accumulate heavy metals in their tissues.

Magic mushrooms, therefore, not only stimulate the mind but might also leave lasting neurotic effects if mercury-laced. The mushrooms and ‘grass’ are but drops in the ocean of heavy duty narcotics that flood Kodai. The hoteliers have been quick to realise that the gradual relocation of their business to the outskirts is necessary if they want continuing profits. Large tracts of forest land have been flattened in anticipation of tourism infrastructure, resulting in soil erosion and silting of nearby water sources. Residents have also had to increase the agricultural output to feed the burgeoning population. Hills have been cut and terraced into submission. Roads snake through, bringing with them loggers, poachers, more tourists and hoteliers. Residents have begun to notice an increase in temperatures and the lack of rain.

With a bleak future, many of those who found solace in the pristine Palnis have decided that the time has come to move away. But some people like Ulrike or Bob and Tanya of the Vattakanal Conservation Trust believe that there is still hope. “The power of nature to overcome the effects of such poisoning is great if we only give her a chance and enough time,” they say. Although the forest department is hesitant, the Vattakanal Conservation Trust has started a shola-grassland restoration programme in a 30-hectare plot with their help. Strangely the Palni hills do not have any earmarked protected areas for forests and wildlife despite being part of the Western Ghats Global Biodiversity Hotspot.

Hazardous wants and waste
As India readily agrees to become the world’s hazardous waste-dump through the watering down of the Hazardous Waste Rules (2008), more people are being threatened by a wider variety of dangerous substances.

What you can do as an eco-tourist
Until the authorities step-in to do their duties, it is important for tourists to protect themselves.
Research the location in which you plan to holiday. Find out the history of environmental disturbance in that area.
Research your hotel to find out if they practise fair trade and whether they are really eco-friendly.
Mercury can affect foetal development; therefore avoid mercury laden environments if you are pregnant or planning to have children in future.

From Deccan Herald

Special attention to preserve pristine beauty of Kodaikanal

Summer festival and two-day flower show begins

KODAIKANAL: All efforts will be taken to commission a rope car facility connecting Kurinji Andavar Temple in Kodaikanal and Sri Dhandayuthapaniswamy Temple in Palani for the convenience of pilgrims and tourists, said I. Perisamy, Minister for Revenue.

Flying colours:Tourists visiting Bryant Park in Kodaikanal, the venue of the flower show, for the summer festival on Saturday. PHOTO: G. KARTHIKEYAN

He was inaugurating the summer festival and two-day flower show at Bryant Park here on Saturday.

Teething troubles in this connection will be settled. Both Palani and Kodaikanal municipalities could avail loan to foot the installation expenses of the new rope car. Both municipalities could repay the loan within a year or two because of the sharp increase in the arrival of tourists every year. Both municipalities need not depend on Palani Temple administration for funds. This matter would be brought to the knowledge of Department of Local Administration for fruitful decision, he assured.

The State government has been paying special attention in protecting the pristine beauty of the hill station. Compared to other tourists’ spots, Kodaikanal is a safe haven for domestic and foreign tourists, the Minister pointed out.

In his special address, Collector M. Vallalar said that more than Rs.10 crore was pumped in through various Central and State government schemes for development of tourists spots. “We have plans to introduce elephant safari and develop Thadiyankudisai as Spices tourism spot.”

Reacting to appeals made by party’s local leaders and representatives of various welfare associations, Mr. Periasamy promised that house and land pattas will be given to genuine beneficiaries at the earliest.

Later, the Revenue Minister inaugurated high mast light at Naidupuram and Anna Nagar as part of the beautification plan of Kodaikanal.

Thousands of tourists from different parts of the country witnessed the summer festival. Several private companies, farmers and government departments had set up flower and vegetable stalls in the flower show.


The artistes, who performed well in various fields at district level were honoured with certificates, cash award and a memento. The honoured were Bharatnatyam dancer N. Gomathy, Nagaswaram player C. Murugesan, Thavil player R. Marimuthu, Artist and drawing teacher T.S. Ganesan, Drama artiste G. Savri Das, Young vocalist J. Balagirish, Sculptor M. Pandimani, Folk musician T. Santhosh, Tabla player V. John Mohan and Harmonium player K.A. Swaminathan.


Dindigul: Dams reach full level

DINDIGUL: All major dams in Palani taluk have reached their full capacity and Varadhamanadhi dam has started overflowing since Tuesday, thanks to the sudden and sharp showers in the past 24 hours.

The entire inflow of 870 cusecs was discharged in to the river from Varadhamanadhi dam.

Storage level in the Palar Porundhalar reservoir reached its brim and Kudiraiyar dam level was inching towards to its total height of 80 feet.

The level crossed 76 feet in this reservoir. Inflow into the Marudhanadhi dam and several tanks near the hilly regions was good. The flow in all streams, including the Silver Cascade on Kodaikanal hill, was also good.

Nilakottai received highest rain and Palani recorded the lowest in the district. The sky was overcast on Wednesday and mild showers were experienced in some pockets.

The worst-affected were the people in Dindigul town. Almost, all prime roads in the town turned slushy and muddy, thanks to the inordinate delay in the completion of underground drainage work. Soil dumped on centre of the road after finishing the work spread on to other parts of the road making it slippery and unfit for riding or driving. Even pedestrians, particularly school children, too faced hardship. North and East Car streets, Main Road, AMC, Salai Road and Railway Station Road and the main road in Begampur were affected.

Total rainfall in the district was 110.4 mm and average rain 12.27 mm only.


Theni: Water released from two dams

THENI: Water was released from Sothuparai and Manjalar dams for irrigation and drinking on Wednesday.

The level in the Manjalar dam reached its total storage capacity of 55 feet (total height 57 feet).

Public Works Department engineers started discharging 1,840 cusecs into the river since Tuesday night.

Inflow to the dam was 2,010 cusecs. The Sothuparai dam has been overflowing for the past two days.

Releasing water from the Manjalar dam, Collector P. Muthuveeran said 100 cusecs of water – 60 cusecs for old ayacut and 40 cusecs for new ayacut — had been released.

A total of 5,259 acres — 3,386 acres under old ayacut and 1,873 acres under new ayacut — would benefit from the release.

A total of 3,148 acres in Theni district and 2,111 acres in Dindigul district will be irrigated.

With heavy flow in the Thalayaru, Varattaru, Kattaru and Moolayaru rivers, all originating from the Kodaikanal hill, the dam level touched its brim within 24 hours.

Sothuparai dam

Mr. Muthuveeran released 30 cusecs of water from the Sothuparai dam also for drinking and irrigation purposes.

Twenty-seven cusecs will be utilised for irrigating 2,865, acres, including 1,825 acres under the old ayacut and 1,040 acres under the new ayacut, in various villages in Periakulam taluk and three cusecs would be for drinking, he added.


Flood control room set up in Dindigul

DINDIGUL: A control room was set up at the collectorate with a toll free telephone service to get all flood related information and expedite relief measures, according to Collector M. Vallalar.

In a release here on Monday, he said that special staff had been deputed to man this room round the clock. People may contact the control room either through toll free telephone number 1077 or through another phone number 246 0320 to pass any information relating to flood and other calamities.

As torrential showers rocked the district for the second day, the level in several dams rose considerably. Two thousand cusecs of water has been released from Kudiraiyaru dam in Palani taluk, Varadhamanadhi dam has started over flowing since Sunday. Saveriammal (65) was killed when a house wall collapsed at Ulagampatti.

Torrential rains lashed Kodaikanal hill. Kodaikanal lake was overflowing. All falls including Silver Cascade and Pear Shola falls and Molayaru have high flow.

There were minor landslides in three places near Dum Dum Rock on Batlagundu-Kodaikanal Ghat Road. One tree fell on the road near Thekkanthottam. Highways department officials swung in to action and cleared the roads within two hours.

One earth moving equipment was stationed on the Ghat Road and special work force was kept ready to take up clearing operations quickly.

Total rain fall in the district 456.6 mm and average rain 50.73 mm. Rainfall recorded at various places at 8 a.m. on Saturday in Dindigul district in mm: Dindigul 10.7, Nilakottai 16.2, Vedasandur Tobacco Research Station 45.6 Vedasandur Taluk Office 41, Chatrapatti 4, Kodaikanal 130 and Kodaikanal Boat Club 124, and Palani 27. Natham 57.5.


Sothuparai dam has been over flowing since Sunday night as water level touched 127 feet.


Madurai: Heavy rain wreaks havoc in various districts

Rivers swelling in Theni district; devotees stranded at temple

THENI: Torrential rains that lashed the district till Sunday afternoon have wreaked a havoc by flooding rivers, damaging four huts in Gudalur and paralysing routine life in all towns and villages.

One person, along with his two-wheeler, was washed away in flash floods in Mullaperiyar river near C. Pudhupatti in Cumbum valley. Flood water was flowing furiously over the road-bridge across the river near the village.

BOUNTY TURNS BANE: Aiyarmadam tank in Ramanathapuram brimming with water on Sunday. — PHOTO: L. BALACHANDAR AND G. KARTHIKEYAN

Almost all rivers in the district are in spate. Water entered Uppukottai village, inundating several houses. Traffic was disrupted for an hour at Uthamapalayam as an old tree fell on the highway owing to a gale. Flood water gushing in Vaigai river was almost touching the bottom of an over-bridge at Kunnoor.

People residing at several villages along the river bank had been asked to move to places of safety. It is feared that water might flow above the bridge in the evening or night.

Over 35 devotees, mostly women and children, who assembled at Sri Karuppusamy Temple on the other side of Mullaperiyar river near Palanichettipatti were stranded owing to the flash floods. Fire service and rescue personnel were deployed to rescue stranded pilgrims. Collector P. Muthuveeran rushed to the spot and supervised rescue operation. He inspected flood affected areas at Uppukottai and other villages till Uthamapalayam.


The district received 726.65 mm rain on Saturday night. Residents at Kuttikaradu near Varadhamanadhi dam were stranded as road connectivity was completely snapped owing to flash flood in Varadhamanadhi river.

With an inflow of 3,400 cusecs, Varadhamanadhi dam in Palani taluk has started swelling since last night, owing to torrential rains in Kodaikanal hills that recorded 154 mm rain. The entire inflow into the dam has been drained into the river. All dams in Palani taluk have started receiving good inflow. Rain was also heavy at the dam sites.

Vaigai river in spate at Kunnur near Theni. — PHOTO: L. BALACHANDAR AND G. KARTHIKEYAN

Total rainfall recorded at various places in the district at 8 a.m. on Sunday in mm: Varadhamanadhi dam 227, Kudiraiyaru dam 195, Parappalar dam 156, Palar-Porundhalar dam 57, Dindigul 42, Nilakottai 56.5, Natham 67, Vedasandur Tobacco Research Station 42, Vedasandur Taluk Office 42.3, Oddanchatram 84, Kodaikanal Observatory 154.6 and Kodaikanal Boat Club 143.75 and Palani 94.


The current spell of rain has claimed two lives, including that of a daily wage worker, in Ramanathapuram district on Sunday.

Vijayarani (40), wife of Ramu of Mavilangai near Chathirakudi, was electrocuted when she came into contact with a live wire lying near her house. An unidentified 27-year-old man was electrocuted at Erikadu in Rameswaram. It was said that a live wire fell on him when he was walking on the street.

Thirty-eight houses have either fully or partially damaged due to torrential rain in the district. Ramanathapuram taluk alone accounted for 32 houses. Three and two huts were damaged in Thiruvadanai and Kadaladi respectively. One house was damaged in Paramakudi.

Thirty anchored country boats, 23 from Keelamunthal coast near Kadaladi, had been damaged by huge waves in and around Valinokkam.

Collector T.N. Hariharan said that Rs.1 lakh would be given to the next of kin of Vijayarani under the National Calamity Relief Fund. Cash compensation to the other victim could be given only after identifying him.

The Tamil Nadu Electricity Board has asked the people to exercise care whenever they find electric wire lying on streets or fields. The Superintending Engineer has requested the people to inform immediately to the EB authorities if they see wires in their nearby localities. Children were advised not to touch iron rods that were connected with electric posts.

A few tanks in Ramanathapuram have been brimming due to the continuous rain for the last one week. Neelakandi tank and Aiyar Madam tank were among those which got good inflow.


Widespread rainfall was recorded in many parts of Virudhunagar district on the night of Saturday. Rajapalayam registered 138.20 mm followed by Srivilliputtur 98, Virudhunagar 97, Pulipatti 80.6, Sivakasi 66.8, Sattur 57, Watrap 55, Aruppukottai 54.6, Tiruchuzhi 47.6, Vembakottai 44.3 and Kariyapatti 40.2 mm.


Madurai: Moderate rain in Theni, level rises in Periyar Dam

THENI: Despite moderate down pour in dam site, the level in the Periyar Dam increased almost by one foot, thanks to the sharp rise in the inflow on Saturday.

If this trend continued, the level in the dam would cross permissible levels shortly, opined officials in Public Works Department.

Monsoon effect: People taking cover under umbrellas to escape from the rain in Dindigul on Saturday.

They also stepped up the discharge to 1,200 cusecs to increase the storage level in the Vaigai dam.

Some areas within Cumbum valley received minor to moderate showers in the morning.

Rainfall was nil in several parts of the district.

The level in Vaigai dam rose marginally as quantum of inflow and the discharge were almost equal.


Intermittent showers paralysed routine life in Dindigul. But this rain was insufficient to increase storage in major dams but beneficial to rain-fed and perennial crops only, said agriculture officials.

The rainfall slumped to 49 mm within 24 hours, which was 102.95 mm on Friday.

The storage level remained the same in major dams in the district.

Inflow in to major dams in Palani taluk was very low, thanks to poor or no rain on Kodaikanal hill.

Total rainfall recorded at various places at 8 a.m. on Saturday in Theni and Dindigul districts in mm: Periyar 8, Thekkadi 7, Goodalur, 5, Uthamapalayam 4, Shanmuga Nadhi dam 5, Veerapandi and Vaigai dam 1 each, Dindigul 8.5, Nilakottai 4.2, Vedasandur Tobacco Research Station 9 Vedasandur Taluk Office 9.4, Oddanchatram 5, Kodaikanal observatory 3.9 and Kodaikanal Boat Club 5 and Palani 4. There was no rain in Natham.