March 13, 2018
Chennai : Chennai Trekking Club that organised the fateful trek up the Theni hill in which 101 people were charred to death has rejected the claim of the government that the expedition was “illegal” as it had all the necessary permissions from the forest department.
The trekking club said it paid government fees and also took safety precautions. In a statement issued by the online group, posted on its website, said “We came to know that on Saturday, March 10th the group started off from Kurangani at the base and paid fees at the forest entry check-post who issued an entry pass.”
Chief minister Edapaddi Palaniswami had declared on Monday that the trekkers did not take permission from the forest department.
“The trekking route from the base at Kurangani to Kollukumalai on top is a regular and a clear trail created by local villagers and trekkers. On Saturday morning when the group started to trek, there was no sign of fire in the entire forest range and by evening the team reached the Kollukumalai tea estate at the top and camped there,” the statement issued by the Chennai Trekking Club said.
On Sunday morning the group started their descent back towards the exit through the same trail they went up by and reached close to mid-point of the exit. The local farmers at the base of the hill set fire to the grass, as is the normal practice, and the fire spread up the hill. Survivors said they had no time to escape the fast spreading fire and smoke.
“As soon as smoke was noticed the team proceeded downhill away from the smoke but got blocked by fire in the opposite direction,” the statement said.
“We also came to know that Dhivya Muthukumaran, one of the participants, rescued three people and went back to save others, but could not get back. She lost her life in her efforts to save the lives of her team mates,” the statement added.
“Our experienced trek organisers Nisha and Dhivya, supported by Arun and Vibin, two of our experienced organisers took out a 27 member group for a 2-day trek along with a local guide,” CTC said.