Thiruvananthapuram, Jun 8 (PTI): The Kerala Assembly on Tuesday witnessed noisy scenes over the recent mass felling and smuggling of centuries-old rosewood trees from a tribal village in Wayanad district as opposition UDF accused the Left government of shielding the culprits and staged a walkout.
The opposition asked how the smugglers could ferry the timber worth crores from the northern district to a sawmill in Ernakulam in central Kerala amidst the pandemic-induced curbs without the support of the authorities.
They also repeatedly asked whether Forest Minister A K Saseendran had any contact with the culprits behind the crime, reportedly accused in several other cases, at any stage.
Seeking a notice for an adjournment motion over the issue, P T Thomas (Congress) alleged that over 40 cases have been registered so far in connection with the illegal tree felling at Muttil village but no one had been arrested yet.
The Forest Department was yet to be ready to recover the smuggled rosewood timber from the accused, he further charged.
Alleging that the culprits had high-profile connections, he also reiterated the opposition demand for a High Court-monitored probe into the incident.
Thomas alleged that the entire looting was carried out under the shield of a government order, issued by Revenue Principal secretary last year allowing farmers to fell all categories of trees except sandalwood from their land having title deeds.
It was suspected that even the order was issued to facilitate the illegal felling of rosewood trees, the Thrikkakara MLA added.
Rubbishing the charges, Saseendran said protecting forest resources is the goal of the government.
'The government will never try to protect or help anyone involved in looting forest resources. Stringent measures are being taken in the issue,'the minister said, adding that a charge report would be submitted to the court at the earliest after completing the inquiry.
Admitting that the government order was misused for felling the trees illegally, he said a total of 101 rosewood trees, worth around Rs 10 crore in the market, were found missing from the village.
He also admitted the opposition charge of lapses on the side of a forest official in Wayanad in the tree felling incident.
Two persons had sought permission to ferry the timber from the village but the department denied nod for the same, the minister said.
But, it was later found to be shifted to a sawmill at Perumbavoor in Ernakulam, from where the forest officials recovered the wood and registered a case against the culprits, he added.
As Speaker M B Rajesh refused leave for the motion based on the government reply, the opposition members staged a walkout alleging that looters were thriving in the state with the backing of the administration.PTI LGK SS PTI PTI