Kochi: The Kerala High Court on Wednesday refused to stay the investigation into the alleged illegal felling and smuggling of rosewood trees worth crores of rupees from a tribal village in Wayanad district.
A plea, seeking to quash the FIRs registered by the Forest Department in connection with various cases of illegal harvest of trees in Muttil village, was filed by Rojo Augustine and Anto Augustine, key accused in the case.
Opposing the plea, the State government said the investigation was in a preliminary stage and the role of the highly influential persons was suspected.
The director general of the prosecution submitted that government officials, including village officers, were facing investigation and whatever came out so far is only the tip of an iceberg.
The trees were looted by misinterpreting a government order, he submitted.
Considering the government's stand, the court refused to stay the investigation.
Meanwhile, considering another plea challenging the government's decision to seize the trees, the High Court sought to know what action has been taken against the officials who gave permission to axe the trees.
The court observed that a vigilance probe has to be issued against the officials responsible for it.
The Opposition Congress-led UDF raised the issue in the Kerala Assembly on Tuesday.
Raising the issue, the Opposition has accused the LDF government of shielding the culprits in the mass felling and smuggling of centuries-old rosewood trees from Muttil.
Admitting that the government order was misused for felling the trees illegally, Kerala Forest Minister A K Saseendran has said a total of 101 rosewood trees, worth around Rs 10 crore in the market, were found missing from the village.
A government order, issued on October 24, 2020, was misinterpreted to fell and transported centuries-old rosewood trees worth crores of rupees. The order allowed farmers to axe royal trees, except sandalwood, which they had planted and naturally grown on the land assigned to them under the Land Assignment Rules.
Misinterpreting the order, a large number of trees were felled on the land assigned to the tribal-backward class communities at South Muttil village.
The smugglers could transport 101 timber trees that are over 100 years old from Wayanad to a timber mill in Perumbavur, Ernakulam, without any supervisory hurdles along the way. The booty was seized only after the load reached Perumbavur and a complaint was lodged by the mill owner. The Meppadi range officer (RO) promptly rushed to Perumbavur and seized the stolen timber.