Located 32 km from Srivilliputhur town, 15 km from Watrap Town and 76 km from Madurai, the Kovilar dam is located in Virudhunagar district. The dam site of Kovilar located inside the Srivilliputtur Wildlife Sanctuary is known for sightings of elephants in the morning and evening, which happens because of the presence of the deciduous forest and the river line that led to the dam.
The people of the Dam area, who came from far and wide to construct the structure to contain waters, the lifeline of the place have become lifeless in its truest sense, fighting for their rights and identity… face the threat of displacement and are a worried lot!
Freeda Maria A start of positivity….. a progressive thought….
From a tourism product perspective, the ETMC was created in September 2013 and registered in November of 2013 with an intent to promote adventure tourism in the area. A trekking route starting from the dam site to the anti-poaching shed at Athiyadikidai atop the hill was identified. Besides, the trek to Saduragiri Sundaramahalingam temple which is located five kilometers from Thaniparai entrance. The locals do visit the temple in large number for full moon and new moon. To ensure the adventure activity, there is a watch tower near the dam and a trekking shed that was built in 2015-16. To help the visitors understand the local flora and fauna an Interpretation center was set up at Thaniparai.
To ensure quality adventure activity, the Tamil Nadu Forest Department (TNFD) also provided for a 27-seater van that was budgeted through the TBGP scheme to be utilized to usher in visitors from Srivilliputhur to dam at a cost of INR 2,500 per trip. A Self-help Group (SHG) at Kilanvanakoil was also set-up to provide for food at the rate of INR 60 per head.
The TNFD team even created an itinerary that would help in ushering in visitors for an experience of nature.
|Sl. No.||Time||Place (activity)|
|1||0800||Srivilluputhur Bus Stand/Railway Station Pick up|
|2||0900||Thaniparai Tribal Village|
|3||0930 to 1130||Thaniparai Interpretation Ctentre and Medicinal Plant visit|
|5||1330||Lunch (SHG to supply food via the ETMC)|
|6||1400 to 1600||Trekking and Kovilar Dam visit|
|7||1600 to 1630||Short halt at the trekking shed (Tea to be provided for a cost by SHG/ETMC)|
|8||1715||Departure to Srivilliputhur|
From the above it is clear that the Government of Tamil Nadu through TNFD made all efforts and provided for an opportunity for a community in the area to make a living out of a dam and tourism products that surround the dam. When I visited the destination, I realized that, the destination is one of the best with all the facets present for destination development.
The village folk are predominantly Muslim who came as labourers for the Dam construction. They stayed on. What is sad and alarming is that despite the number of years of settling in the place they have no identity as locals. They own no lands due to not holding any identity card. They have no means for monthly supplies as rations from the government fair price shops too. This puts them in a major crisis, as the village folk cannot deem themselves to be locals for any government facilities or welfare schemes. They are subject to no or less employment opportunities. They depend on sundry jobs and are not forthcoming to the tourism opportunities too.
The ETMC is a very minuscule relief as very few are appointed as staff thus becoming direct beneficiaries of tourism income. The Forest department does not consider revolving funds and micro finance institutions do not come forward to offer them small and medium loans for income generation. Banks require proper documents for loan approvals and the village folk have no paper documents to submit.
A situation of complete apathy befell and I retreated to the place with a burdened mind and a heavy heart. Interventions for this community should be made with the government to give them rights over the land that they are living in for years. This is the first and the most basic requirement for them to consider helping themselves for jobs, basic rations and availing of benefits. The infrastructure facilities in the village are in shambles as there are no toilets with open defecation causing a permanent stench in the air. No road access to reach the village, only a kacha path, another deterrent for the tourists to navigate to the dam through the village. The area has not been visited by the local self-government institutions for waste collecting and there’s garbage strewn everywhere. Open drainage creates a scene of soreness and the stench is unbearable. The village folk own zero agricultural lands and are not involved in any agricultural activity. They are seen whiling away their valuable time sometimes doing nothing, squatting and in random talks. Their morale seems to be very low and in a state of despair.
It is time that development happens from the smallest of such villages and not talk of top brass policies, that sometimes do not address the problems of the people of the lowest rung…
Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, Sabka Prayas is a must for this community………….I only hope someone is listening