On Friday, 17 tipper lorries carrying over 500 men, armed with crowbars and wooden sticks, attacked the forest range office at Thamarassery during a hartal declared against the K. Kasturirangan committee recommendations on the Western Ghats, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) R. Adalarasan recounted on Tuesday.

A First Information Report was lodged by forest officials within 24 hours of the incident.

The officials passed on the registration numbers of the vehicles to the police.

A final report on the incident, scheduled to be submitted by the Forest Department on Tuesday, has been postponed.

“We received information that a forensic team from the Police department will conduct an on-site investigation to assess the damage and also collect forensic samples. The fire force department will also have to file their inputs on the nature of the arson. The Public Works Department has to assess the loss to the department buildings… the final report can be prepared only after their inputs arrive. It is a one-time report,” Mr. Adalarasan said.

The report, as the case was with the Forest Department’s preliminary findings, will be filed before the Chief Conservator of Forests and the Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests in the next two days, he said.

Over 500 people

“When the crowd, over 500 of them, came in the 17 tipper lorries, there were only around 10 staff members, including the Thamarassery Forest Range Officer, his deputy, and watchers, in the office,” Mr. Adalarasan said, quoting a preliminary report filed.

“Of the four buildings in the range office premises, the one completely destroyed was that of the Rapid Response Team. The mob gutted the office and put on fire the team’s jeep,” he said.

“Another four vehicles which we had seized and had in our custody were destroyed by the mob. The three vehicles of the range offices were damaged in the violence. They even razed to the ground a medicinal garden we had on the premises. We have calculated the loss as Rs.2 crore,” Mr. Adalarasan said.

Files destroyed

He said the files destroyed at the range office dealt with about 150 pending cases dealing with violations of the provisions of Kerala Forest (Vesting and Management of Ecologically Fragile Lands) Act, 2003; the Kerala Private Forests (Vesting and Assignment) Act, 1971; and the Kerala Forest Act, 1961.

Section 3 of the Kerala Forest (Vesting and Management of Ecologically Fragile Lands) Act, 2003, gives sweeping powers to the government to vest ecologically fragile land in the Western Ghats “notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, or in any judgement, decree or order of any court or tribunal or in any custom, contract or other documents, with effect from the date of commencement of this Act.”

It says that the “ownership and possession of all ecologically fragile lands held by any person or any other form of right over them, shall stand transferred to and vested in the government free from all encumbrances and the right, title and interest of the owner or any other person thereon shall stand extinguished from the said date.”

“The files destroyed mainly dealt with cases in which private encroachers had challenged the vesting of ecologically fragile lands in the government,” Mr. Adalarasan, who is the nodal authority to enforce the Act in the district, said.

At other range offices

“Two other ranges offices in the district – Peruvannamuzhi and Vilangad in Kuttiadi range – also saw huge mobs. In Peruvannamuzhi, there were more than a 1,000 people. The Vilangad office in the Kuttiadi range was pelted with stones. It is clear that they targeted the forest offices,” Mr. Adalarasan said.

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