A public interest litigation petition has been filed in the Madras High Court seeking a re-investigation by the CB CID into the fire in the additional sandalwood depot at Tirupattur in Vellore district more than 14 years ago.

The petitioner submitted that on March 16, 1997 there was a major fire in the depot. The loss was calculated for purpose of write-off in May 2007 as Rs.190.41 crore. About 3,260 tonnes of heart wood were lost. The current estimates of the loss would be Rs.1,630 crore at the rate of Rs.50 lakh per tonne.

The First Bench comprising the Acting Chief Justice R.K.Agrawal and Justice M.Sathyanarayanan ordered notice returnable by August 1.

In his petition, Kannan of Vandalur here said that as far as sandalwood was concerned, Tamil Nadu had three divisions, Salem, Sathyamangalam and Tirupattur. The wood from all places was stored in a major depot at Tirupattur. Silviculturally matured and seized wood were accommodated in an additional facility at Tirupattur. A large quantity of the wood had been kept there.

Following the fire, the Justice S.Raman Commission of Inquiry was appointed to go into various issues including an inquiry into its cause and circumstances. The panel found that the fire was due to sabotage and this had been done by the department personnel.

The CB CID investigated the matter in a hasty manner and filed a charge sheet citing seven persons, including a minor boy, as accused.

Curiously, Mr.Kannan said, the charge sheet was laid by cooking up a story that the fire was due to the negligence of the boy while playing, which no men of ordinary intelligence would believe.

The accused were acquitted as the case was not proved. The State did not file any appeal.

The petitioner alleged that a senior forest officer was a very good friend of a then IAS officer (since retired.) Thus, the forest officer escaped law. Loss of goods and responsibilities should be fixed in a scientific manner as the sandalwood belonged to government.