Activists are split over plans to build a medical college and hospital on a 25-acre site in Udhagamandalam town.
Some activists have voiced their concerns that axing of more than 2,000 exotic eucalyptus, wattle and pine trees will not only ruin the aesthetic beauty associated with one of the last remaining green spaces within the town, but also affect a wide variety of wildlife, such as leopards, sloth bear, Indian gaur and barking deer, that have adapted to survive in the area and its surrounding forests.
The proposed site, located near the Ooty Gymkhana Club, has been earmarked as the future site for the setting up of the government medical college and hospital, on the ground that the site would be ideal, as it is only populated with exotic, non-native flora.
Impact on wildlife
However, rather than being a proverbial ‘dead zone’, devoid of biodiversity, activists and local residents argue that a huge array of wildlife use the 25-acre site as part of a contiguous habitat which connects surrounding forest patches. They voiced their concern that cutting down the trees and building a hospital could impact wildlife in the area and exacerbate human-animal conflicts in the region.
Shobana Chandrasekar, from the ‘Make Ooty Beautiful’ campaign, said forests surrounding the defunct Hindustan Photo Films (HPF) Manufacturing Company in Udhagamandalam were some of the last remaining ‘green spaces’ in Udhagamandalam town. “While there is no question that the trees are exotic to the landscape, the area itself is extremely beautiful and is one of the last remaining green expanses within the town itself. A variety of wildlife also use the tracts of land to move between different forests,” said Ms. Chandrasekar, who said residents and activists were fully in support of converting the existing infrastructure of the HPF factory into a hospital. She called on the government to rethink the proposal to cut down more than 2,000 trees to make way for the college and hospital.
R. Saraswathi, a local resident, who lives near the proposed site, said it was not just the hospital that the locals were worried about. “This area (surrounding HPF) is very peaceful, and many retirees stay here. If a hospital and medical college comes up, it will mean more shops, traffic and more people and litter too. There will also be obvious concerns about medical waste contaminating nearby reservoirs,” she said.
‘People stand to benefit’
While there is concern that the hospital could permanently alter the landscape, others like Nilgiris-based conservationist N. Mohanraj are of the opinion that benefits of having a medical college and hospital in the Nilgiris far outweigh any environmental concern.
“While the first priority should be to convert the existing HPF factory infrastructure into a hospital, we cannot also dismiss the alternative site due to environmental concerns. The site itself only contains exotic trees, and there are established protocols to deal with hazardous medical waste. In the long-run, people in the Nilgiris will stand to benefit from having a medical college and hospital, as currently, many lives are lost due to people having to be rushed to Coimbatore for treatment in case of emergencies,” said Mr. Mohanraj.