Move to settle tree felling cases, loss worth Rs 15cr likely to be written off

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

Kozhikode: The sensational tree feeling cases involving losses worth crores of rupees to the state are likely to be settled completely.

A decision to this effect is expected to be taken soon.

In order to resolve the matter, the government intends to issue a special circular that will carry specific instructions that farmers are not to be harassed in the name of these cases. Besides, it will also ensure that forest officials are not held liable.

The proposed circular would be issued with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's consent.

Since the case would not stand legal scrutiny if only those who cut and smuggled out the trees are arraigned as accused, all cases registered in connection with the tree felling would become irrelevant with this circular.

According to the details which have come out so far, the loss incurred due to tree felling is estimated to be to the tune of Rs 15 crore. Under these circumstances, the government might write off this amount.

The decision to derail the probe was taken at a stage when the investigations headed towards the former revenue minister and the CPI leadership. Even though the special investigation team had declared that it would bring out the conspiracy behind the tree felling order, the government realised that such a course would only tighten the noose around former revenue minister E Chandrashekharan's neck as he was the one who gave the final direction for issuing the controversial order.

The CPI on its part pointed out that it cannot be held solely responsible for the controversial order. There was direction from the chief minister's office as well to permit tree felling, which the CPI has maintained while putting up a strong defence.

The meeting of the special investigation team held in Aluva discussed ways and means to save the forest officials. Efforts are being made to ensure that while registering the cases, the liability does not fall on the forest officials.

During the course of the deliberations, it was pointed out that a section of officers resorted to non-cooperation by not registering cases in the high range circle. The forest officials explained that they did not register cases fearing that the financial liability of the loss caused by tree felling would come upon them.

Finally, they came to the understanding that the issue could be resolved by issuing a circular which makes it clear that forest officials were not liable for the loss of trees which are on the revenue land and under the department's ownership.

The special investigation team is set to meet the chief minister on Monday with the proposal. The representatives of forest staff unions have been entrusted with the task of apprising forest minister A K Saseendran of the decisions and latest developments.

The range officers have been directed to register cases prior to the issuance of the circular. They have been asked to register the cases based on the minutes of the meeting.

The forest officials have been told that only the number of cases registered were needed at this stage. Meanwhile, the forest department is gearing up to register cases invoking any weak section of the Kerala Forest Produce Transit Rules 1975 and the number of trees lost. One of the officers has been directed that even mahassar is not required to be written.

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