Illegal tree-felling: Key Secretariat officials transferred over flagging faulty order

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

Thiruvananthapuram: The Kerala Government has carried out a mass transfer of the Secretariat officials attached to the Revenue Department who had handled the files related to the large-scale illegal felling of trees. While Additional Secretary Girija Kumari, who had made adverse comments in the file pointing out that the government order in this regard was improper, has been shifted to Higher Education Department; Additional Secretary Bency, who is also the convenor of the Secretariat Action Council and president of the Secretariat Association, has been shunted out to the Debt Relief Commission, even though she has a mere eight months for superannuation.

Others who were shown the door from the Revenue Department are: Additional Secretary Santhosh Kumar, who has been ordered to join the Local-Self Government Department; and Under Secretary Shalini, who has been asked to go on leave. It was Shalini who provided details of the current and note files related to the tree-felling under the Right to Information Act.

Incidentally, the transfers were announced soon after the Secretariat Action Council released a notice to rein in Revenue Principal Secretary Jayatilak for allegedly aiding the timber mafia.

After Girija Kumari had written an adverse note on the file, the then Revenue Minister E Chandrasekharan gave instructions to bypass these comments and issue an order enabling felling of trees.

In her noting, Girija Kumari said: “According to the amendments suggested, the ownership of all trees, except sandalwood, planted and grown by farmers rests with the title-deed holders. It is also mentioned that previous rules existing since 2017 need not be considered. However, such a directive violates existing rules. So, the opinion of the additional advocate general also has to be sought and the court’s decision to be awaited.”

Overruling these comments, Chandrasekharan noted in the file that nobody’s opinion need to be sought and recommended action against any official attempting to prevent the felling of trees. Quoting Chandrasekharan, the Revenue Principal Secretary issued the order which led to large-scale illegal tree-felling in Kerala.

As reported earlier changes in state government circulars led to the logging. The first circular of the forest department that paved the way for timber loot was issued last March by overturning decisive recommendations. The final circular was issued by excluding two important sections contained in the draft to prevent the illegal felling of protected trees.

The issue pertains to protected trees, mostly rosewood and teak, that were found axed from assigned land in a few districts of Kerala. The forest department's assessment is that 2,410 teak and blackwood trees had been cut from the assigned (patta) land. Forest officials had earlier pointed out that the exact number of trees would be thrice more than this figure. Trees were also cut from forest land.

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