Ex-Minister says he gave order to axe trees after ryots' plea

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Kasaragod, July 4 (PTI): Former Revenue Minister of Kerala E Chandrashekharan on Sunday said the order to fell trees in various districts of the State was issued under his direction that he stated was based on requests of farmers organisations.

This prompted the opposition Congress to seek a judicial probe into the matter.

The opposition parties have been attacking the ruling Left over the alleged mass felling and smuggling of centuries-old trees, including rosewood, by the alleged timber mafia, a matter into which the State government had ordered a probe.

'The order by the revenue secretary was issued under my direction. I have disclosed this many times. That order was issued after considering many aspects and based on various discussions including all-party meetings and also the request from various farmers organisations. It was to protect the rights of the farmers,' Chandrashekharan told reporters.

The government had, on June 12, constituted a special investigation team to probe into the issue and into similar such looting of invaluable forest resources across the State.

'The decision was to allow the felling of trees which were planted by the owners of patta (private) land under the Land Registration Act, 1964 except the reserved trees like teak, sandalwood and rosewood. We have not given any order to chop the reserved trees. We cannot give any such order,' the CPI leader said.

'The order was to chop trees which owners had planted after receiving the ownership of land. There is a false campaign taking place,' he said.

Senior Congress leader K Muraleedharan said the order was issued with the knowledge of the party and said the CPI chief Kanam Rajendran cannot evade responsibility.

'Chandrashekharan as a Minister never faced any corruption allegationin his last term. It seems like the order was issued with the knowledge of the Minister,' Muraleedharan told reporters here.

Opposition leader V D Satheeshan said the order was a licence to the mafia.

Earlier, environmental organisations had demanded a CBI probe into the looting of trees at Muttil in Wayanad as well as those from other assigned lands in other parts of the State.

'The government's stance that there was no need to investigate into the circumstances under which the order was issued was a challenge to the judicial system. There is no doubt that the Revenue and Forest Ministers and officials of their offices have been behind the illegal order that allowed the felling of the protected trees,' they had said in a statement.

The Forest Department's vigilance wing had submitted a report to the government saying trees worth Rs 15 crore were cut down from districts, including Wayanad, Idukki and Thrissur, by allegedly misinterpreting the government order.

The vigilance wing also alleged there were lapses on the part of the Revenue officials.

The government had informed the Kerala High Court that a mafia was involved in felling of trees and what was revealed in the investigation was just the tip of the iceberg. PTI RRT NVG NVG

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