Kurangani fire: lack of training and monitoring to blame, says report

Inadequate monitoring of adventure activities in the wild by the Environment and Forest Department, lack of clear knowledge of the forests and poor training among trekkers have been identified as the factors that caused the death of over 20 trekkers in a forest fire at Kurangani hills in Theni district in March this year.

Sources said these aspects had been highlighted in a report submitted by senior IAS officer Atulya Misra to Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami at the Secretariat on Friday. Mr. Misra is the Enquiry Officer tasked with conducting a probe into the incident.

According to a source who had perused the over 100-page report, the probe had revealed that there were some faults on the part of the range and district-level officials of the Forest Department in monitoring the activities in the wild, and there were certain loopholes in the surveillance of forest areas.

In this specific case, it was found that a tout, and not even the trek organiser, led the trekkers into the forest area, and they were both ill-equipped and untrained to handle any untoward incident. Basic training could have kept the trekkers safe.

The Enquiry Officer is believed to have highlighted that there is no mechanism in place to monitor the numerous organisations that claim to have expertise in adventure sports, trekking and camping in forests.

The source said that one of the recommendations made in the report was to provide training for Forest Department officials in surveillance and forest-related activities, along the lines of the systems in place in the United States and in Sikkim.

Following the fire on March 11 and the resultant fatalities, the CM had appointed Mr. Misra as the Enquiry Officer, tasked with conducting a probe into the incident and submitting a report in two months.

The circumstances that led to the tragedy and the conduct of trekking activity without having obtained permission from the Forest Department in a forest fire-prone area were to be probed in detail to enable the government to take further action, the CM had said.According to the Terms of Reference for the inquiry, Mr. Misra was to probe and further review the procedures adopted by the Forest Department for the regulation/grant of permission for trekking in reserved forest areas, and look into the role of trek organisers and forest officials, as well as lapses on their part, if any.

there is no mechanism in place to monitor the numerous organisations that claim to have expertise in adventure sports

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