Kochi: The Kerala High Court here on Monday initiated a suo motu case over the illegal puja held at Ponnambalamedu, a protected forest area near Sabarimala.
The court has sought an explanation from the government as well as the Travancore Devaswom Board over the incident. The devaswom bench of the High Court took action on the report of Sabarimala special commissioner.
A team of five people led by Thrissur Thekkekkattumana Narayanan Namboothiri who is called Narayanaswamy, a priest settled in Tamil Nadu performed puja at Ponnambalamedu after trespassing into the forest.
The incident came to light after a video of the puja surfaced on social media. The high court intervened in the issue after the incident made headlines.
It is reported that Narayanan Namboothiri was dismissed from the post of the assistant priest (Keezhsanthi) at Sabarimala temple over alleged irregularities.
Forest dept arrests three
The Forest Department has registered a case and arrested three people in connection with the case. Chandrasekharan alias Kannan, a resident of Kumily, was nabbed from his hideout in Idukki on Sunday. A few days ago, forest officials arrested Karuppayya and Sabu Mathew, two officials from Gavi Forest Development Corporation in connection with the case.
In the meantime, police and forest officials have intensified the search for Narayanaswamy. A source said Chandrasekharan acted as the mediator between Narayanaswamy and the two arrested officials, who allegedly guided the priest and others to Ponnambalamedu through a forest path from Pachakanam.
For their help, supervisor Karuppayya reportedly received a reward of Rs 3,000 and watcher Mathew received 2,000. Further investigation by the forest department revealed Chandrasekharan's involvement in the case.
Non-bailable charges against accused
The Kerala forest department has registered a case under non-bailable sections against the aforesaid persons for trespassing into Ponnambalamedu in the protected forest area near Sabarimala and performing such rituals there.
If found guilty, the charges against Narayanaswami, under section 51 of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and section 27 of Kerala Forest Act 1961 -- for trespassing into a protected forest area -- carry a maximum sentence of a seven-year jail term.
The only persons allowed entry into these areas are Forest Department staff on duty and visitors who have obtained permission from the chief wildlife warden or other officials.
The forest department’s report submitted before a local court said the identities of Narayanawami’s accomplices are yet to be ascertained.