The Assembly on Thursday unanimously passed the Kerala Forest (Amendment) Bill which seeks to impose severe restrictions on cutting and sale of sandalwood.
The Bills seeks to specify that none should cut sandalwood trees on their land without previous permission from authorised officer. It also seeks to prohibit possession of sandalwood, in excess of a kilogram, and sandalwood oil, in excess of one hundred millilitres, without a licence. Right to processing and sale of sandalwood is proposed to be restricted to government.
The Bills further seeks to lay down punishments ranging from imprisonment of three to seven years with fine for violation of the provisions of the Act. The Bill was reported by the Subject Committee with the provision that a three member committee constituted by the government should scrutinise applications for cutting of dead or wind fallen sandalwood trees on private properties or trees that pose a danger to life or property.
Replying to the debate on the Bill, Forest Minister Benoy Viswam said that the Kerala had been pressing for closure of all sandalwood factories in the private sector in the southern States. The issue had figured repeatedly in the conference of forest ministers of Southern States.
The Minister said that the government would be able to establish a forest academy of international standards within six to seven months.
The Centre had promised assistance for the academy. Mr. Viswam did not concede the demand from Opposition members for increasing the quantity of sandalwood and sandalwood oil that could be possessed by individuals. He, however, agreed to exclude standing sandalwood trees from the definition of sandalwood.
Earlier participating in the debate, T. N. Prathapan (Congress) demanded that the Bill should specify higher punishment for offenders. Clear provision was needed regarding the quantity of sandalwood that could be kept by Ayurvedic doctors, manufacturers of medicines and religious institutions.
M. Hamsa (CPI-M) demanded that the government should reclaim forests encroached by private parties. He commended that tree cover had increased in Kerala and cases of smuggling of sandalwood had come down. Places of worship and Ayurveda doctors should get better protection from the provisions restricting possession of sandalwood and sandalwood oil. Abdul Rahiman Randathani (Muslim League) said that individuals should be allowed to keep at least 200 millilitres of sandalwood oil.