A bunch of cyclists who ventured into the reserve forests of Chamundi Hills found themselves on the wrong side of the law and were slapped with a fine of ₹25,000.
Though the incident took place almost two months ago, Forest Department personnel conducted an inquiry, which proved the transgression of the law, and a fine was imposed on the organiser of the expedition a few days ago. The Deputy Conservator of Forests (Territorial), Prashanth Kumar, said it was illegal for anyone to venture into the reserve forest area of Chamundi Hills. But a group of around 40 cyclists was found riding along the path used by the forest guards.
While all kinds of motorised vehicles and cycles are allowed to use the asphalted road of the PWD or use the steps to reach the hilltop, people cannot venture into the forest area, said Mr. Kumar.
“The Chamundi Hills reserve forest harbours leopards and the organisers had even taken schoolchildren inside the forest area without permission, unaware of the lurking danger,” said the official.
It is speculated that the group had ventured into the reserve forest area for off-road cycling along the unpaved road that is used only by the forest guards for patrolling. “It is not a well-maintained road and is used only by the guards. In case of any injury to the children, the Forest Department would have been blamed,” said Mr. Kumar.
Besides, it was the beginning of the fire season when the incident took place, and the reserve forests of Chamundi Hills were already dry in certain parts and susceptible to ground fire. The presence of such a large group inside the forest area was definitely a dangerous violation that cannot be disregarded, or else such mistakes could be repeated, the official said.
Chamundi Hills provides a continuous elevation and gradient and is enticing for cyclists. The authorities said they have no issues if cyclists take the asphalted road.
Such misadventures have turned tragic in other parts of the country. A group of trekkers caught unawares of a forest fire died in Theni district of southern Tamil Nadu three years ago. In 2016, a group of trekkers was rounded up inside BRT Tiger Reserve and cases were booked against the organisers for conducting a trekking expedition inside a tiger reserve — which is illegal — and endangering the lives of the group members.