Three days after the inferno at the Kurangani forest in Theni killed 12 people and injured many others, Prabhu of Tour De India Holidays, one of the organisers of the trek has been arrested by the police. This is the first arrest following the fire.
Speaking to TNM, police sources said, “Prabhu has been arrested. He has been booked for causing death due to negligence and trespassing in a reserved area.”
Police sources also confirmed to TNM that they were also on the lookout for Peter Van Geit, who founded the Chennai Trekking Club for further investigation but “he was unavailable”.
According to the Forest Department, the 39 trekkers, who were trapped in Sunday’s fire, came in two groups. While Tour De India Holidays led by Prabhu organised a trek for 12 people from Erode, the Chennai Trekkers Club (CTC) had 27 persons for the two-day trek at Kurangani forest. All four organisers of the Chennai trek were killed in the fire.
Officials had initially told the media that both groups did not have permission to enter the forest.
In his testimony to the police earlier in the week, Prabhu had, however, stated that the Erode team had passes for the trek. "After we paid Rs 200 and received a receipt from the forest department, we left for the trek with a guide named Ranjith, who was well aware of the terrain in Kurangani. We stopped our van in Kurangini and began climbing. We reached Kolukkumalai through Othumaram at around 6 pm (on Saturday) and set up tents there. And just behind us, a group of 26 people from Chennai led by Arun came up and set camp next to us,” Prabhu’s statement to the police read.
On Tuesday, the Chennai Trekking Club came out with an official response to the mounting allegations against them, stating that necessary permissions were obtained. They further claim that the trekking route from Kurangani to Kollukumalai on top is a regular for both local villagers and trekkers.
The two groups were coming down the slopes when they were trapped in the forest fire on Sunday afternoon.
Earlier on Wednesday, Chief Minister Edapaddi Palaniswami announced an inquiry committee into the tragic incident to be headed by Principal Secretary, Department of Revenue and Disaster Management Atulya Misra. In a statement, the CM said that the committee would look into circumstances leading to the tragedy, procedures in place for trekking permissions as established by the Forest Department, roles and lapses on the part of forest officials, etc.