Kerala High Court flags its disquiet at government’s relaxation of certain rules in tree-felling case

Even as the accused in the Muttil tree-felling case were refused bail on Monday, the Kerala High Court flagged its disquiet at the relaxation of certain rules by the government to facilitate tree-felling from government assigned lands.

Justice K. Haripal observed that “it is disturbing that statutory provisions are being infringed by issuing executive directions with impunity. (The) apex court has in a catena of decisions held that when the government is competent to amend statutory provisions even retrospectively, it cannot be whittled down by executive orders.”

The government order dated 24.10.2020 had allowed assignees of the government land to cut down or fell trees on payment of the value of the timber of the reserved trees. The tree-felling and transportation of logs of rosewood in Wayand allegedly took place under the guise of the order. The order was later cancelled.

The court observed that even assuming that the government order was not cancelled or stayed by the court, still that did not affect an assignment or conditions in the assignment. Even going by the government order dated 24.10.2020, such valuable tree could be cut down or felled by the assignee only if he had paid the value of the timber of the reserved trees. Here, the petitioners had no case that the land owners had paid the value of the trees, if any, that stood in the property at the time of assignment.

Burden of proof

The court further observed that it was true that an assignee is entitled to cut and remove trees that were grown or planted by him subsequent to the assignment.

However, the burden was on the petitioners who claim the rights under the assignment to prove that they were not in possession of any specified tree at the time of assignment or that they had paid the value of trees that stood on the land at the time of assignment. This had not been done, which was very fatal to the case of the petitioners, it observed.

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 8:00:40 PM |

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