Muttil tree-felling case: Wayanad CPM turns against Revenue Dept after farmers fined Rs 7cr

Union Min Prakash Javadekar seeks report on illegal axing of rosewood trees in Kerala

Wayanad: Protests are raging in Wayanad against the Revenue Department over measures to slap heavy fines to the tune of Rs 7 crore on 35 farmers, including tribals, in connection with the Muttil tree-felling case.

The farmers had sold rosewood trees to the Augustine brothers -- Roji Augustine, Josekutti Augustine and Anto Augustine, who allegedly misled them with a confusing state government order. In total, 104 rosewood trees, including some over 570 years old, were cut and smuggled out by the brothers the ‘Augustine brothers’.

Though the forest department submitted a valuation report of trees in 35 cases months back, the valuation of trees in 27 cases is still pending.

The revenue department has been slow-pedalling the procedures as there was confusion over the slapping of fines in the case under the Kerala Land Conservation (KLC) Act. The origin of the case was a vague order of the state government.

As per the KLC Act, the landowners should remit the fine within a month of receiving the notice, failing to do so will lead to legal measures including confiscating of property. The revenue officials have demanded a special order to circumvent the KLC Act issue that forces them to fine the farmers.

On the one side, misled by the Augustine brothers, the land owners consented to sell the trees while the accused misrepresented the farmers with their fake signatures. The High Court had criticised the Muttil South village officer for issuing permission to cut the rosewood trees.

Meanwhile, CPM district secretary P Gagarin told reporters that such a blatant persecution of farmers will not be allowed when their party rules the state. “Instead of slapping fines on the perpetrators, the revenue department is slapping fines on the poor farmers,” he said.

“Most of the farmers did not even receive the price of the trees as those were felled after paying a paltry advance,” he said. The Wayanad district unit of the CPM has announced a protest march and sit-in in front of the Muttil South village office.

Greens have also come out with protests. Wayanad Prakrithi Samrakshana Samithy president N Badusha has told Onmanorama that they suspect a move to save the culprits who misled the farmers and deceived the state.

“The fine should be slapped against the higher revenue officials who colluded with the culprits by giving permission to fell the trees. It is high time the government issued a special order to ensure justice to the farmers,” he said.

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