Thiruvananthapuram: The opposition Congress in Kerala on Tuesday demanded a judicial probe into the alleged illegal felling and smuggling of centuries-old rosewood and teak wood trees from at least eight districts in the state.
The party alleged that protected trees worth crores of rupees have been looted from government-assigned lands in eight districts under the cover of a government order.
Describing it as one of the major lootings of forest resources in the history of Kerala, Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly, V D Satheesan, urged the state government to order a judicial investigation into it.
Satheesan, who is also chairman of the Congress-led UDF, said three separate delegations of UDF leaders on Thursday will visit places from where the trees were looted in various districts.
The Congress leader alleged that both Revenue and Forest Departments were escaping from the responsibility of widespread forest loot reported from eight districts.
He said a fact-finding team comprising ecologists and lawyers will be constituted to study the issue and prepare a report.
The state had witnessed large-scale felling of protected trees like rosewood and teak wood from revenue land assigned to farmers and tribals since March last year based on an amendment in the Kerala Forest (Prohibition of Felling of Trees Standing on Land Temporarily or Permanently Assigned) Rules, 1995 that permitted landowners to cut all reserved trees, except sandalwood.
The government revoked the order in January this year following criticism from environmentalists.
On Monday, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said strong action would be taken against those who looted trees under the guise of the order.
He said the government issued the order considering the demands of the farmers in this regard.
Consultations were carried out with all political parties before making the decision, Vijayan had said on Monday.
The order was withdrawn after finding some shortcomings, he said.
Attacking the Chief Minister, Satheesan said Vijayan's statement that the government order was issued with good intention was meant to protect the conspirators behind it.
Meanwhile, the special investigation team (SIT) constituted by the government started its probe into the scandal.
The team is headed by Crime Branch ADGP S Sreejith.
Talking to reporters, Sreejith said a control room has been opened to receive complaints from the public.
He said people can send their complaints via email too.
Sources said the forest officials have seized several cubic meters of logs of illegally felled trees from various locations in the district.
Meanwhile, a plea has been filed in the high court seeking a CBI investigation into the matter.
In his plea, Purushothaman P, a Delhi-based Malayali, alleged that the trees were felled as a result of a conspiracy hatched by a section of officials from revenue and forest departments and ruling politicians to help the timber mafia.
Last week, the state government had informed the Kerala High Court that a mafia was involved in the felling of trees and what was revealed in the investigation was just the tip of the iceberg.
A BJP-NDA delegation, led by Union Minister V Muraleedharan, had visited Muttil village in Wayanad last week, where crores-worth timber had allegedly been felled and smuggled from government-assigned lands by the alleged mafia.
(With inputs from PTI)