Special Correspondent

Forest Minister steered clear of controversies in his 324-day tenure

Claims credit for initiating several forestry programmes Says he built up good rapport with environmentalists Says he took action against illegal sandalwood factories

Thiruvananthapuram: Water Resources Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, who had been stand-by Forest Minister for the last 324 days, ended his assignment with a feather in his cap. He is perhaps the first Minister handling the portfolio to relinquish office without being caught in a controversy.

At a time when politicians, particularly Forest Ministers, are wont to hit out at environmentalists, Mr. Radhakrishnan was able to establish a good equation with them. The Forest Department is one of the most controversial among the Government departments. Very few ministers have come out unscathed in recent years. It is one department that has never had a Minister for a full five-year term in the last 20 years.

Mr. Radhakrishnan took temporary charge in the heat of a row generated by a High Court reference against his predecessor, K.P. Vishwanathan. Sandalwood smuggling was rampant and the State was in the grip of another row over the functioning of illegal sandalwood factories. Mr. Radhakrishnan appears to have waded the troubled waters, setting his own style of functioning that was indeed different from his assignment as Water Resources Minister.

The Minister did not conceal his satisfaction at having performed his brief at a press conference on Tuesday. He said the biggest achievement during his tenure was the destruction of ganja valued at Rs.131 crores. He had shut down 23 unlicensed sandalwood factories the day he assumed office, he said. Besides, he had undertaken a series of administrative measures to protect the sandalwood reserves at Marayoor. "We have booked nearly 11 most wanted poachers and forest vandals. I have the list of names with me, but I am not disclosing it for obvious reasons. We have filed 470 cases relating to sandalwood smuggling and illegal felling of sandalwood trees," he said.

He said he derived immense satisfaction from being involved in the efforts to secure the release of forest land for Sabarimala development.

He had initiated several forestry programmes, including the coastal forestry scheme, `Haritha Threeram.' The Forest Department was now in possession of 8,000 hectares of land in Kambakal, which would be utilised for alternative forest regeneration.

Similarly, the cases related to the seizure of tiger skins had been handed over to the CBI to inquire whether the racket had international connections. It was under his tenure that foresters were given guns and the permission to use them.

Mr. Radhakrishnan said he had striven to involve environmentalists in the Forest Department's programme, the most significant being the Sandalwood Protection Conclave held at Marayoor.

Mr. Radhakrishnan also defused a few potentially troublesome questions relating to the Cardamom Hill Reserves. He said he did not want to make any comments that would make things difficult for his successor. When pressed for his views on the CHR issue, he said that the Gopinathan Committee report had termed the CHR as forest only on record. "But these are issues that have to be decided by the Supreme Court and I am not prepared to give my interpretation," he said.