An unprecedented legal crisis has gripped the Kerala Forest Department with the statutory post of the Chief Wildlife Warden (CWW) lying vacant for close to one month.
The post has been vacant since November 11 following the suspension of the incumbent Bennichan Thomas for permitting the cutting of trees near the baby dam of Mullaperiyar Dam.
Though a senior officer of the department can act as a link officer to another one in his absence, no one can stand in for the CWW unless notified by the government as the post is a statutory one defined in Section 4 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, point out forest officials.
Range of powers
The Act confers a wide range of powers on the CWW, including the protection, conservation and management of wildlife and wildlife sanctuaries. Only the CWW can order hunting, capturing, tranquillisation or translocation of wild animals.
The permit for hunting of animals and protected species of plants for education, scientific research, collection of specimen, derivation, collection and preparation of snake venom for manufacturing life-saving drugs and cultivation of specified plants can be issued only by the official.
Luckily, no emergency situation had evolved in the State during the last one month where a wild animal had strayed into human habitation or attacked humans. In such cases, the animal can be tranquillised or hunted down only on an order from the wildlife warden, says an official.
Though P.K. Kesavan, Head of Forest Force, has been acting as a link officer for the CWW since the suspension of Mr. Thomas, the former has been confining himself to managing the day-to-day affairs of the office of the CWW.
The State government is yet to make its mind regarding the appointment of the CWW though Mr. Kesavan had reportedly highlighted the statutory requirement to fill the slot. The file is pending with the office of the Chief Minister, say sources in the Forest Ministry.
The State government may have to choose the CWW from among the pool of four Principal Chief Conservators of Forests, Ganga Singh, Prakrithi Srivasthava, D. Jayaprasad, and Noyal Thomas, after excluding Mr. Thomas.
Forest Minister A.K. Saseendran was not available for comments.