Sabarimala development works dragging on

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Three months remain for the start of the pilgrim season and the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala is bracing to welcome the pre-season Onam rush.

As far as infrastructure development, especially the ones envisaged in the masterplan, is concerned, little progress has been made since the last season.

“A major part of masterplan works is yet to be implemented and this includes reconstruction of Valiya Nadappanthal which will be demolished and a two-storeyed structure on the lines of the Tirupati model constructed,” said M. Rajagopalan Nair, whose term as Devaswom Board president ended last month.

Similarly, another promise doled out before the start of the season in the last two years is that more open space will be made by razing the building around the temple premises. This includes relocation of the prasadam complex near ‘Azhi’ so as to facilitate sighting of the holy ‘makarajyothi’. Already lagging behind by a year, the work will not be completed this season too, going by the pace of development works.

The reasons include objections from the forest department, an apathetic Devaswom Board, lack of specific deadlines and administrative procedures. The latest project to hit a stumbling block was the expansion of the Nilakkal parking ground facility after the forest department objected to cutting down of trees.

Chief Secretary K. Jayakumar personally visited the areas on Sunday and spoke to forest officials. “The issue was amicably resolved and we have to go through administrative procedures. Similarly, on the Valiya Nadappanthal project, preparation procedures will be completed by this year end. We hope to start construction by January next and complete it by Vishu,” the official said.

Jayakumar said that the administration will complete all basic arrangements, including those of drinking water by augmenting the capacity of the Kunnar dam before the start of the season.
Godown spaces at Pampa will be expanded, raw materials like jaggery will be acquired directly doing away with the middleman process, and cleaning will start one month before the season (November 15), he said.

What is the way out?

Experts say there should be specific deadlines for master-plan projects. “The Chief Secretary is doing his best but he is already over-burdened and is not in a position to devote full attention to development works.

Government should appoint a dedicated high-power committee that will look into development projects of the hill-shrine temple. At least they should create a dedicated post such as a Sabarimala Development Officer who is entrusted with shrine projects round the year,” a top Devasom Board official said.

Another demand is raising the status of Sabarimala to that of a national pilgrimage centre, especially in the wake of the SC order restraining activities in the Periyar tiger reserve in which a major part of the pilgrimage centre falls.

The need for a committee that includes a person with a spiritual background for deciding projects should also be actively considered, said Rahul Easwar, grandson of senior tantri, Kandararu Maheswararu.

Devaswom Board has no head for a month now

The Devaswom Board remains headless ever since the term of M. Rajagopalan Nair ended early last month.

There are just a few months to go for the season to start, and a headless board is expected to derail urgent infrastructure works at the hill-shrine of Ayyappa at Sabarimala and the base camp, Pampa.

“The president’s post is lying vacant since July 13 and there is no chance of a new person taking over in the near future. A new board has to come in place which will then elect the president, a process that may well go beyond November,” a top Devaswom Board official said.

Many development works promised to be completed before the start of this season is expected to be hit by this as decision making will now be a problem.

Projects like setting up queue complexes from Pampa to Sannidhanam and improving the condition of the Swami Ayyappan road is likely to hit.

“The proposed sewage treatment plant, appam-aravana complex, ropeway project, development of Swami Ayyappan road and new queue complexes will remain non-starters,” said Pandalam Palace Managing Committee (PPMC) president P. Ramavarma Raja.

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