Updated: June 14, 2021 7:01:18 am
The felling of around 1,800 protected trees on revenue land across five districts of Kerala is snowballing into an embarrassment for the LDF government.
The trees, mostly rosewood and teak trees, were on government revenue land assigned to farmers and tribals. The trees were felled during the fag end of the previous LDF regime, but the issue returned to haunt the Pinarayi Vijayan government, one month into its second term, when the Congress-led Opposition raised the issue in the state Assembly last week.
With the extent of damage still being estimated, the government on Saturday constituted a Special Investigation Team, comprising senior officials of the police, revenue and forest departments, to probe the alleged scam.
According to the Kerala Government Land Assigned Rules, 1964, the revenue land assigned to private parties is only meant for cultivation, with the farmer forbidden from cutting or selling protected trees such as teak, sandalwood and rosewood. However, farmers have been demanding that they be allowed to cut the trees since they were overgrown.
Giving into their demand, in October last year, the Revenue Department issued an order, allowing felling of protected trees, except sandalwood. The order, issued without amending the relevant rules, led to timber dealers felling protected trees across several districts.
As environmental activists red-flagged the controversial order, in February, the previous LDF government withdrew the order. But by then, several trees had been felled on the assigned land.
On Sunday, Revenue Minister K Rajan said, “The order issued by the Revenue Department [on felling the trees] was misconstrued. The government has ordered a comprehensive probe. The probe will unearth the magnitude of the plunder of forest wealth and expose those who facilitated it. The government will consider the farmers’ demand for felling of trees on government land assigned to them, after plugging the loopholes in the rules,’’ he said.
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