In the aftermath of the devastation unleashed by floods and landslides, much of the focus recently has been on illegal constructions and encroachments, which many say caused the manmade disaster. At such a time, Devikulam MLA S Rajendran of the CPI(M) has raised many an eyebrow for voicing his protest against the Revenue Department’s decision to issue a stop memo to a resort in Pallivasal near Munnar in Idukki district. The Revenue Department had issued the stop memo to the Plum Judy resort as it is under serious threat of landslides.
In his speech at the Kerala Legislative Assembly on August 30, S Rajendran said, "Natural calamities cannot be stopped by demolishing the hotels at Munnar or by controlling the climate.” Taking a dig at ecologist Madhav Gadgil and scientist Kasturirangan reports on the Western Ghats, the Devikulam MLA said, “These things had gone way beyond the Gadgil or the Kasturirangan reports. The calamities brought in by nature cannot be overcome just by building dams or by controlling climate or by giving closure notice to resorts like Plum Judy.”
Fifty-seven tourists including 22 foreigners were trapped in Plum Judy resort in Pallivasal following a massive landslide. Falling rocks and mud from the slopes of the nearest hill blocked access to the resort. After 61 hours, the Army and revenue officials rescued the tourists from the resort on August 9.
Rescue operations to evacuate stranded tourists from Plum Judy resort
Following this, the District Collector issued a stop memo to the resort. PK Shaji, Devikulam Tehsildar told TNM that Plum Judy resort faces the threat of landslide and rockfall. “The district collector has already issued a stop memo to the resort. 17 vehicles were trapped in front of the resort due to the rock fall. I have submitted a detailed report to Devikulam Sub-Collector and recommended not to given permission to reopen the resort. Three weeks ago, three landslides occurred in the area and isolated the tourists. The area also under the threat of rock fall and serial landslides," says Shaji.
With road connectivity still destroyed, the Devikulam Tehsildar said they haven’t been managed to recover the 17 trapped vehicles from the resort.
Plum Judy Hotel
However, Devikulam MLA S Rajendran alleges that some officials are being overenthusiastic to shut down the resort. "Though there are more than 500 workers living in the plantation estates and other buildings situated under the Pallivasal hill, Revenue officials are only targeting the Plum Judy resort. They are trying hard to close down the resort. The officials’ decision is to be suspected, " alleges S Rajendran.
He goes on to allege that while tourists inside the resort were trapped following landslides, the MLA claims that there the issue was blown out of proportion. “As per the instructions given by CPI (M) district secretary, I went to the spot. I realised that officials can easily rescue the tourists by walk. But the Sub-Collector and other officials portrayed things in a different way and tried to issue a stop memo to the resort, " alleges the MLA.
He also alleged that officials were targeting Plum Judy as the neighbouring resort, which belongs to a prominent media house, was losing visibility following the former’s inauguration. “Since then, officials are trying to close down the resort," Rajendran alleges.
Landslide prone area
The Pallivasal tunnel area, where Plum Judy resort is situated, is considered a landslide prone area. On March 13, 2017, three tourist vehicles were damaged after a rock fell on them. The big rock rolled down from the Pallivasal hill, destroying the vehicles parked in the resort’s parking ground and the security wall of the resort too was damaged.
In May that year, a study by the Geographical Survey of India (GSI) warned that the Pallivasal area was prone to rock falls and landslides. In the report, GSI explained that thousands of vulnerable rocks are situated in this area. “Even if a small rock falls down from the top of the hill, it can lead to a big disaster,” said the report.
Months later, on August 5, 2017 another rock fall incident took place near the Pallivasal tunnel. There were, however no damages reported. Three days later, then District Collector GR Gokul issued a stop memo to the resort. Challenging the order, the owners of Plum Judy moved the Kerala High Court, which went on to dismiss the plea. The resort appealed before a division bench of the same court.
On November 2017, the Kerala High Court’s division bench granted permission to resume functioning of the resort.