Tree-felling row: Omissions of ex-minister Chandrashekharan are glaring

Kozhikode: As the probe into the illegal tree-felling picks up pace the motives of former revenue minister E Chandrashekharan have come under a cloud of suspicion. The CPI leader tried to justify his decision to permit the axing of protected trees on assigned land, claiming it was to help farmers. But why did he wait for a couple of months to act upon an adverse advice against the circular issued by the revenue department that encouraged private parties to cut down trees in a hurry?

The probe reports reveal the minister is found to have faltered on many fronts. Without waiting for the legal opinion Chandrashekharan had issued strict direction to officials to issue the order urgently. But when the recommendation for scrapping the order arrived, the minister forwarded it to the law department for perusal and waited for a jolly good two months.

The notings made on the file clearly point out that the minister's action led to the long delay in scrapping the order which in turn paved the way for large-scale illegal felling of trees during this period

The law department's opinion on the proposal to scrap the order came after a 53 days.

Strangely the former minister directed the revenue principal secretary to issue the order totally rejecting  the official advice that tree cutting could be permitted only on the basis of additional advocate  general's opinion and a high court order on the matter. The subordinate officials had also pointed out the legal issues involved in the minister's action.

Even the joint secretary's note pointed out that high court had stayed the March 11 circular based on which the order had been issued. But none of this was taken into consideration.

However, revenue officials sensed the danger soon after the order was issued. Subsequently efforts were expedited to  obtain additional advocate general's opinion which had been sought earlier.  The file notings made on November 3 and 4 mentions that the additional advocate general be reminded of the reply required for the letter submitted on August 26 seeking legal opinion.

However, the department did not receive the legal opinion.

The file trail

It is pointed out  that the detailed report regarding the legal issues involved in the order attached with the file was actually prepared by the revenue officials. (It was inadvertently mentioned as AAG's report the other day.)

The principal secretary approved the report and sent to the minister.

With the report hinting at the possibility of contempt of court proceedings, the department initiated the move to scrap the order.

The recommendation to scrap the order and and the draft order were sent to law secretary on November 28 for his  perusal.

The department received the reply only on January 20,  2021. Subsequently the cancellation order was issued under the date February 2.

A Wayanad-based environmental group Green Cross has alleged conspiracy behind the delay in issuing the order.

Officials not bound to follow illegal orders

An official is not duty-bound to comply with the minister's order exactly if he is aware that it is illegal. Being an issue in which even the high court had intervened earlier, the official could seek another legal opinion. It can be sent for the opinion of other departments concerned as well. Can wait for the Cabinet decision.

Move to transfer under secretary

Close on the heels of sending the revenue under secretary who provided the documents related to tree cutting under the RTI on two months leave, there is a move to shift her from the post. A top revenue official had verbally directed to shift revenue A, L, U section in-charge Shalini to C,D section. The officials concerned have also been issued urgent direction to prepare draft of the order.

It may be recalled that the note given by the then revenue minister Chandrashekharan to issue the order on tree cutting came out in the public domain through media the other day. Under secretary Shalini who is the Information Officer handling the RTI matters, had given the reply to applications received by the department. 

It is alleged that a high official of the revenue department had publicly reprimanded Shalini and insulted her  for providing the document.  Besides, she was asked to go on two months leave.

However officials of the department pointed out that Shalini had only discharged her duty as an official responsible for RTI documents. Her colleagues alleged that some of the top officials were causing mental harassment to her for discharging duty  diligently. 

Kerala Secretariat Action Council has protested against the move to harrass an officer who carried out her official duties honestly. 

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