Men who were once poachers and law breakers, are now working for the promotion of tourism in the global tourism destination, Thekkady.
The Forest Department has reformed 19 former poachers, enabling them to find the means of livelihood by offering their services to the tourists. The men are mainly from Tamil Nadu and they were habitual offenders engaged in unlawful activities, said a forest official.
After the Forest Department introduced strict monitoring, the offenders approached the department for employment as the last resort.
In this regard, an Eco Development Committee comprising the offenders was formed. The committee is also known as ‘Vidiyal Vanapathukappu Sangham’.
The members are assigned various works related to tourism and forest protection. Bamboo rafting, border hiking and bullock cart riding are some of the activities conducted by the group. They are given assignments by the forest guard each day. The group is engaged in activities like bamboo rafting and border hiking from 8 am to 5 pm and forest night patrolling from 6 pm to 6 am. Each member of the task force gets around `8,500 per month.
The members are also actively engaged in taking tourists to different villages in the base camp of Cumbum and Theni in Tamil Nadu.
During the height of the Mullaperiyar dispute, poachers and sandalwood smugglers had set afire the bullock cart and their office to settle scores for joining hands with the Forest Department.
The Thekkady Destination Promotion Council(TDPC), an association of 13 hotels, helped them to get a new bullock cart at a cost of `80,000. The service named ‘Bullock Cart Discoveries’ transports tourists through Mannakudy and Paliyakudy villages.