Opposition stages walk out from Kerala Assembly over tree felling controversy

Leader of the Opposition V.D. Satheesan. File   | Photo Credit: K. Ragesh

The United Democratic Front (UDF) Opposition legislators walked out of the Assembly on Friday after Forest Minister A.K. Saseendran turned down their demand for a judicial probe into the illegal felling of centuries-old protected trees in the State.

Caught in the Opposition’s cross hairs for the second consecutive day after the UDF members had demanded his resignation for allegedly shielding a sex offender on Thursday, Mr. Saseendran fended off pointed questions that appeared to put the government in a spot over the tree felling controversy.

Leader of Opposition V.D. Satheesan, who led the walkout, accused the government of orchestrating a forest plunder of unprecedented proportions. Going by the official estimates, trees worth ₹ 14 crore were cut in Wayanad alone. There have been reports of much greater loots from as many as nine districts that could run to several hundreds of crores of rupees.

The contentious government order, issued by the Revenue Department on October 24, 2020, turned out to be a ‘license’ for mass logging, The government is now hell-bent on protecting the guilty at the expense of poor farmers and tribespeople, he alleged.

The Forest Minister retorted by accusing the Opposition of attempting to create a smokescreen for political gains, despite the government adopting all possible steps to unravel the scam through a comprehensive probe by a special investigation team that comprised officials of the Home, Forest and Vigilance departments.

“No effort will be spared to punish those responsible for such nefarious activities. Political considerations will not influence the government’s probe in any manner,” Mr. Saseendran added.

Replying to questions on the issue, he informed the House that two officials who were posted at the Lakkidi forest check post in Wayanad – a section forest officer and a beat forest officer – have already been suspended for alleged lapses in failing to prevent the smuggling of the rosewood logs axed from Muttil.

Among the 49 cases registered in the incident, the trees were found to have been cut from revenue Pattaya land in 47 cases. Efforts were on to identify the source in the other two cases. Having been unable to prove their ownership, the government submitted in its counter-affidavit at the Kerala High Court that the timber could have been from the natural forests, the Minister said.

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2021 3:38:17 PM |

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