Kerala trains SIT to investigate logging, smuggling | Latest India News

The Kerala government on Saturday formed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under the leadership of Additional Police Director General S Sreejith to investigate allegations of illegal logging and smuggling of hundreds of precious rosewood and teak from Wayanad and other districts, by official order.

The SIT includes officials from the Forestry Department and the Vigilance, Revenue and Crime branch, an order issued by Chief Secretary VP Joy said.

“This (the cutting of trees) is suspected to be the result of a conspiracy by some people,” he said. The special investigation team was formed taking into account “the seriousness, impact and dimensions of the offenses,” added the senior official.

Widespread logging is the first major political controversy facing the recently re-elected DFL led by Pinarayi Vijayan and the opposition is considering moving the High Court to demand an investigation by a central agency. It turned out that smugglers were misusing a government order last year that allowed tree cutting on income land allocated to farmers before 1964. After the Muttil (Wayanad) incident, where 101 rosewood trees were illegally felled and smuggled, similar cases appeared in many other districts.

In Thrissur, officials said they foiled an attempt to burn down felled teak stumps on Friday evening in order to destroy evidence.

Environmental activists said the trees were worth at least 500 crore were looted using government order and they suspect a link between politicians, officials and the timber mafia. Chief Minister Vijayan said on Saturday that this was a serious problem and that his government would not spare the culprits. The government admitted in the High Court last week that a large logging mafia was involved and that the recovery of timber worth 50 crore was the tip of the iceberg.

In October 2020, the state revenue department issued an ordinance allowing the cutting of protected trees such as rosewood and teak grown by farmers on land allocated to them before 1964. It is believed that the modus operandi of what may well be one of India’s greatest environments crimes involved members of the timber mafia who abused this order to fell trees in forests, on private land or on land owned by poor, uneducated farmers who may not have known what was going on.

Campaigners also claimed that Principal Secretary (Revenue) A Jayathilak should not have issued the controversial order.

Indeed, shortly after the order was issued, Wayanad District Tax Collector Adeela Abdullah warned her superiors of potential abuse, but no one took it seriously. Meanwhile, Divisional Forestry Officer (Flying Squad) P Dhanesh Kumar, who played a key role in uncovering the alleged smuggling, was reinstated in the investigation team after public outrage over his expulsion. After the case came to light, he was transferred although Forestry Minister AK Saseendran said on Friday he was not aware of the officer’s abrupt transfer. Kumar survived two life attacks, allegedly by the timber mafia.

Kumar was instrumental in reclaiming over 7,500 acres of forest land. The Wildlife Protection Society of India honored him in 2006 for tiger protection and he received the Chief Minister’s Award in 2007 for dismantling an interstate sandalwood gang. Two plants from the Western Ghats are named after him, Rotala Dhaneshiana and Syzygium Dhaneshia. “I can’t speak to the case. But I will be on the front line to save the forest and the wildlife, ”he said.

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