Tree felling: govt. finds itself in a spot

The illegal felling of protected trees in vast numbers from deeded land threatened to put the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in a spot on Monday.

The scandal, which has its provenance in a controversial order passed by the previous LDF government, has political and legal ramifications for the current dispensation.

Leader of the Opposition V.D. Satheesan has demanded a judicial inquiry into the environmental crime. Mr. Satheesan said he would lead a UDF fact-finding delegation to South Muttil village in Wayanad district on June 17, which reported the loss of almost 100 ancient rosewood trees to the forest mafia.

He said the previous government had used farmers as a cover to allow the forest mafia to denude Kerala of its tree wealth. The Revenue Department had passed a dubious order in October last allowing farmers to harvest tress they had cultivated on assigned land. The forest mafia had used the ruling to persuade pandemic-hit farmers to sell them protected timber for a pittance. The suspects had political and official patronage.

He said the controversial order had prompted several District Collectors, forest enforcers, and environmental activists to raise red flags and send cautionary reports to the administration. However, the government did not rescind the order till February. It kept the door open for timber rustlers to loot the State’s tree wealth.

Earlier, the Bharatiya Janata Party had made forest theft a political issue to attack the LDF. Party State president K. Surendran persuaded the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to seek a report from the State government. He and Kummanam Rajasekharan visited Wayanad to spotlight the crime.

The State government has to defend itself in the High Court against a plea for a CBI inquiry into the timber theft. The scandal also has brought into sharp focus the role of the Revenue and Forest Departments during the tenure of the previous LDF government.

Apparently scrambling for answers, Communist Party of India (CPI) State secretary Kanam Rajendran reportedly conferred with former Revenue Minister E. Chandrasekharan and former Forest Minister K. Raju.

A CPI person said the previous disposition had issued the order in the farmer interest. But vested interests had misinterpreted it to enable the racketeers, he said.

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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 6:39:24 AM |

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