Tirumala: Yet another devastating fire in the Seshachalam hill ranges, the lone designated biosphere in the state, points to the classic case of neglect on the part of the government.
The Seshachalam ranges, which fall on the southern part of the Eastern Ghats, covering an area of 4,755 sq km in the districts of Chittoor and Kadapa, was designated as a biosphere reserve by the Centre in 2010 considering its rich bio-diversity.
However, little has been done in preserving it over the years. The Seshachalam ranges has over 1,700 species of trees belonging to 178 families including the precious red sanders. It is home to many animals, some of them endangered, including the Asian elephant maximus, hyena, golden jackal, Indian fox, jungle cat, sloth bear, spotted deer, mouse deer and four-horned antelope. The world-renowned Lord Venkateswara temple is also located within the biosphere.
Forest fires are an annual phenomenon, but little has been done to spot fires or to develop means to douse them quickly and efficiently. The TTD spends crores as part of its afforestation drive including planting of medicinal plants, sandalwood trees and endangered flora but little has been done to augment fire fighting measures.
In 2012, a major fire broke out close to the second Ghat road near the Seventh Mile, destroying close to 200 acres of forests. It took around 10 hours to bring it under control. The then forest minister Satrucharla Vijayarama Raju had visited the spot and set up watch-squads to spot fires. But, despite it, nothing was done.
Had the blaze been detected earlier, it could have been arrested early, without much damage caused. Meanwhile, hundreds of guest houses and cottages have mushroomed close to the valleys resulting in massive deforestation. It was a stroke of luck that the blaze occurred in the northeast corner of the Tirumala hills, not affecting the residential areas.
Meanwhile, pilgrims were stopped from trekking after fire broke out. Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams sealed off the Alipiri and Srivari Mettu trekking routes on Wednesday.
TTD executive officer M.G. Gopal explained that it was a precautionary measure taken to avoid any untoward incidents along the trekking route.
Security personnel including the TTD vigilance and police personnel were posted at the entry points of the trekking routes to stop the devotees. However, later the footpaths were reopened in the evening. Vigil has been stepped up all along these routes.