TAMIL NADU

State official hits back at AAG

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM DEC. 24. Referring to the forest cases routinely being lost in the courts by the State Government, the former Forest Secretary, Bharath Bhooshan, today said a "thorough cleaning of the Augean stables has become highly overdue."

Addressing a press conference here, Mr. Bhooshan said the cleaning operations should cover not only the State Government's mechanism for conducting the forest cases, but also the system being followed in deciding the posting of officials. Sensitive areas should be placed under officers with proven integrity, he said.

Mr. Bhooshan said he was forced to address the media since the Additional Advocate General (AAG), V. K. Beeran, had levelled certain grave charges against him by calling a press conference in Kochi recently. He said he had sought and received permission from the Government to address the media.

Mr. Bhooshan said the whole issue should be seen in the context of the widely discussed controversy about the existence of an alleged nexus between the forest mafia and Government advocates and officials in the State.

There are even High Court verdicts giving graphic accounts of the way this ``nexus'' operated to decimate the forests. Various committees of the State Legislature also have commented on the phenomenon. From what he had learned during his tenure as the Forest Secretary, this phenomenon was still continuing, he said.

He said one accusation against him was that he had insisted on seeing an affidavit prepared by the Advocate General's (AG's) office on his behalf (in his capacity as the then Forest Secretary) in the sensational strong room robbery case in Palakkad last year and had made changes in it.

"Since this affidavit had to be signed by me, I was well within my rights to insist on seeing it," he said, adding that the Law Secretary too had supported his position.

The draft of the affidavit was sent to him and he had suggested certain changes pertaining to some unsubstantiated charges against a forest officer, he said.

The second charge was that the changes suggested by him were meant to save the accused. "Which accused is Mr. Beeran referring to? The strong room robbery case was investigated by three agencies: the State police, the Crime Branch of the State police and now the CBI. As far as I know, none of these agencies had named any person as the accused in this case. The only thing that has happened in this case is the suspension of 12 officials on charges of dereliction of duty," he said.

Mr. Bhooshan said the AAG's reference, apparently, was about the former Flying Squad Divisional Forest Officer of Palakkad, Shamsul Huda, who was one of the suspended officials for "failing to gather intelligence about the strong room theft".

"I know Mr. Huda as an efficient investigator, but for whom certain notorious cases like Pancharakolli tree-felling would not have come to light. In several other cases like Periya tree-felling also, his reports formed the basis for the action initiated by the Government," Mr. Bhooshan said.

"Somehow, whistle-blowers have a way of inviting on themselves all sorts of calamities in our system. The fate of V.K. Francis, who saved Mathikettan from the land-grabbers (only to go on suspension for more than a year), is known to everyone. Mr. Huda found frequent transfer orders served on him and he had got back to Palakkad after fighting a case against the latest of the transfers in the court. I had reasons to suspect that the stand taken in this case (strong room theft) by certain responsible people was not meant entirely to protect the interests of the Government," Mr. Bhooshan said.

He said he did not mean to say the system worked one way when the UDF was in power and another way when the LDF was in charge of the Government. "The pattern survives political changes in the Government," he said.

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