An ugly fight has broken out between forest department officials of the Meghamalai reserve in Theni and the district collector. The District Forest Officer has accused the administration of flouting the Forest Conservation Act, to dig a thousand feet borewell without the required approvals.
When questioned, the Collector allegedly threatened to file a complaint against the forest department for allowing over 300 trees to be cut in the reserve forest.
A recording of what is allegedly a conversation between DFO Anand and Theni Collector N Venkatachalam, has been doing the rounds on social media for the last two days. According to the forest officer, the phone recording is proof that he warned the Collector that an FCA clearance is required to dig a borewell in the area. But the other person on the phone call, supposedly the collector, says that a 3 km road was constructed in the forest without any such clearance.
He further says, "If you write a negative report, I will write one on you. We will see whose report is stronger. I will put a bore(well) there. I will not get permission. If you report this, I will report what you did."
The Forest Conservation Act strictly restricts and regulates the de-reservation of forests or use of forest land for non-forest purposes without the prior approval of Central Government. To this end, the Act lays down the prerequisites for the diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes.
TNM spoke to both the Forest Depart official and the District Administration regarding the allegations that were made in the recording. The Theni Collector claims that this is a smear campaign against him because he dared to question the forest officials for cutting trees in the reserved forests to allow for a road to be laid.
"They cut close to 300 trees without any approval. The borewell that I have dug is however not even in the forest area," he claims. "There is absolutely no violation. This water is meant for 800 people who reside in Siraipalai. They haven't had water for 20 days," he adds.
The Collectors further claims one and a half inches of water was found and already distributed. "They were unnecessarily creating problems, so I had to talk in that manner," he justifies.
Forest officials however have another version to offer. "The road he is talking about is actually a mud path that was being laid by a private individual. As soon as we found out we stopped him," says Anand, the Deputy forest officer. "A thousand feet borewell was dug on the Collector's orders on Saturday. But they stopped by themselves after finding no water," he claims.
When asked if the Collector had actually refused to get the required permission, Anand says, "Well you heard the recording. I have reported the matter to my superiors."