Kochi/Thiruvananthapuram: The massive tree-felling at Muttil village in Wayanad is merely the tip of the iceberg, the State government informed the High Court of Kerala on Wednesday, even as five separate teams were formed to investigate similar cases reported from other districts also.
Another High Court bench, in a separate case of tree felling, enquired why a vigilance probe was not initiated against officials who had granted permission to axe the trees. The State submitted that the centuries-old trees on assigned land were felled by misinterpreting a government order.
Meanwhile, Minister for Forests A K Saseendran directed Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Vigilance) Ganga Singh to submit a probe report within a week. If more time was required for the investigation, an interim report should be filed in seven days.
If the report was found unsatisfactory, another investigation would be recommended, the minister said.
The five teams would be investigating similar cases of tree felling in Palakkad, Thrissur, Ernakulam and Idukki, besides Wayanad. The Department of Forests would also look into allegations of tree felling in the Pathanamthitta district.
The Principal Chief Forest Conservator had reported that the trees were felled at Muttil in collusion with a few officials of the Forest Department. The report also shed light on the efforts made to sabotage the probe into the incident.
A preliminary investigation found that influential persons, who had roles in some deals, were trying to derail the probe. The official, accused in the Muttil case, had close relationships with higher-ups in the government.
Meanwhile, indications were that though CPI had been handling the revenue department, which issued the order during the first Pinarayi Vijayan-led government, those close to CPM were behind the robbery. They have initiated moves for scuttling the probe.
Plea for stay on probe denied
The High Court turned down a petition by two of the key accused persons in the Muttil tree-felling case, Anto Augustine and Josekutty Augustine, on Wednesday.
Opposing the petition by the Wayanad residents, Director General of Prosecutions T A Shaji submitted that the case was merely the tip of the iceberg and trees were felled in large numbers by misinterpreting a government order.
The prosecution also submitted that senior government officials, including a village officer, were under suspicion and further probe was necessary.
Justice Narayana Pisharadi allowed the State two weeks to submit a detailed reply.
The High Court enquired whether a probe by the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) into the widespread felling of trees was not necessary while hearing another plea.
Lissamma Sebastian of Kasaragod requested the court to restrain authorities from seizing a rosewood tree felled on her residential premises.
While raising the question over the vigilance probe, Justice P Gopinath asked the circumstances under which the officials had approved the felling of trees.
Replying, the government submitted that the officials had acted on the order that was then in force. The order was later withdrawn. The court would take up the petition for consideration on Friday.