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New norms out, Trekking sans guides banned
Seven months after the Kurangani forest fire incident in Theni district claimed the lives of 23 trekkers, the State Forest department on Friday made it mandatory for a trekking group to be accompanied by a local guide or a department staffer, who is well versed with the hilly terrain.
Introducing more norms and guidelines in the recently unveiled trekking policy, the Forest Department has classified treks into three categories based on the difficulty level – easy, moderate and tough.
The revised policy, prepared by a team of officials after scrutinising the fire tragedy, has made it mandatory for trekkers to be accompanied by a forest guide, who is a local or tribe person aware of the mountainous path.
In case of moderate and tough treks, a forest watcher should always be with the trekkers, the release from Environment and Forests secretary Shambhu Kallolikar said. A forest watcher is a department person, not only having local knowledge but trained in handling emergency situations.
For the above purpose, all the national parks, reserve forests and wildlife sanctuaries were studied. Trekking expeditions will be allowed based on the local conditions and norms prescribed by the field officials.
The department has also fixed differing amount payable to the Forest department for the three categories. An individual must pay Rs 200 for the easy trek, while Rs 350 and Rs 500 have been fixed for moderate and tough treks respectively. Foreigners taking up easy trek are required to pay Rs 1,500. For moderate and tough treks, they must pay Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000 respectively.
Individuals or organisations that conduct such expeditions should get prior permissions from the district forest officers. The same permission can also be obtained from the wildlife wardens and deputy directors in case of wildlife sanctuaries.
According to forest department insiders, trekking inside the core area of four tiger reserves in the State will be completely banned. Similarly, the forest pockets frequented by elephants will also be off-the-limits for the activity.