Ten people – seven women and three men – who were part of a trekking expedition were killed in a fire that swept through the Theni forest in Tamil Nadu, bordering Kerala, the government said on Monday. Chief Minister K Palaniswami has announced a compensation of Rs four lakh to the families of the deceased, Rs one lakh for those who suffered serious injuries and Rs 50,000 for those with minor ones.
Advanced light helicopters (ALH) and 10 commandos were pressed into service to rescue those who were trapped in the fire. Citing the difficult terrain as a major hindrance in conducting operations seamlessly, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, “We are also bringing in an ALH, which is a light helicopter so that the manoeuvrability will be better because this cliff is almost a vertical hillock, which goes up very sharply and there is not much not of a level ground where they can land.”
Health Secretary J Radhakrishnan said rescue teams comprising officials and health department personnel were camping in the hills.
According to CM Palaniswamy, the trekkers who were caught in the forest fire did not have permission for an expedition. “Without permission, they embarked on a trekking expedition. Trekkers should climb hills only after taking the government’s nod,” he had said in his native Salem district.
Police said a few officials were deputed to make enquiries at the office of the organisation, that had organised the expedition, but found it to be closed. The website of the organisation also did not have details of those managing its affairs.
As per rules, those wanting to go on a trekking expedition to the hills need to apply to the conservator of forests or district forest officer in advance. The trekker will have to list out their contact address, blood group and health issues, if any. Prior permission must be obtained from the Chief Wildlife Warden or local wildlife authorities in case the trekking area falls under a national park or wildlife sanctuary.
While seven of the victims were from Chennai, the others were from Erode district, the CM said in a statement. “I was anguished to know that 10 persons were killed in the forest fire,” he said.
Palaniswami said a probe has been ordered into the incident and authorities have been directed to take stringent action against those who allegedly arranged for the expedition without permission. “The district administration and health department officials had been instructed to ensure best medical treatment to those admitted to local hospitals,” he said.
Following the incident, the Kerala governnent today banned the temporarily banned trekking in state forest areas. A decision to this effect was taken by the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority, a statement issued by the chief minister’s office said.
(With PTI inputs)