Kozhikode: Kerala Minister for Forest and Wildlife A Saseendran has asserted that the guilty in the Muttil rosewood smuggling case would not be spared.
"The investigation into the issue was progressing in the right direction and the guilty would be punished. The Forest Department had adopted the same stand from the very beginning," the minister said.
He also confirmed that the trees were felled from the patta land. The special investigation team (SIT) has looked into all the aspects of the case as trees were illegally by misinterpreting the government order.
“Usually, in every case, the accused look for loopholes to wriggle out of the case. It was made clear earlier that the wood was cut down in Muttil and other places by misinterpreting an order issued by the government. When the government realised this, a notification was issued freezing the order," Saseendran said.
The conclusions drawn by the Forest Department have been conveyed to the investigating team. If the investigation team registers cases, the government would adopt punitive measures such as the suspension of the officials concerned, he said.
"The government could have ended the issue by taking action like suspension at the very beginning of the issue. But if that happened, all those involved in the crime would have escaped. The government’s stand is that they shouldn’t be allowed to go scot-free,” Saseendran said.
Meanwhile, the owners of the lands from which the rosewood trees were felled, have come out with the allegation that the Augustine Brothers — Anto, Roji, and Josekutty — and the other accused persons had cheated them by claiming that the village officer had granted them permission to chop down the trees.
The tribal farmers said that they had not signed any agreement in this connection.
The illegal felling came to light when forest department officers caught the rosewood logs smuggled by the Augustine brothers. The logs were being transported to a mill at Karimugal in Ernakulam district when they were seized.
The illegal felling of protected trees caused the state coffers a loss running into many crores of rupees.
How it all happened
A government order, issued on October 24, 2020, was misinterpreted to cut down and transport centuries-old rosewood trees worth crores of rupees. The order allowed farmers to axe trees, except sandalwood, which they had planted or naturally grown on the land assigned to them under the Land Assignment Rules.
Misinterpreting the 2020 order, a large number of trees were felled on the land assigned to the tribal and backward class communities at South Muttil village in Wayanad district.
(Patta is a land ownership document issued to individuals or institutions by the government from the state-owned land, also called the revenue land.)