A year after a forest officer in Karnataka was suspended for alleged corruption, the state government has returned him to the same post. The move has attracted criticism from environmental activists in the state as the officer is still under probe.
The officer in question is Range Forest Officer HR Nagabhusan who has been reposted as the RFO Mysore Paper Mills (MPM), Bhadravarthy in Shivamogga district (central Karnataka). Documents accessed by TNM have shown that Nagabhusan was posted on May 4 while he was suspended from the same post in May last year. As a result of the same order, RFO Muniraj who was earlier credited with the recovery of 500 acres of forest land from an influential politician has been transferred out.
While Nagabhusan is yet to get a clean chit, he has been reinstated to the same post from which he was suspended. A top former department official in the know of the development said this is not the usual practice that an officer under probe is put back in the same post. "I don't know why the government has decided to put him back there." he said.
Activists allege that Nagabhusan has managed to secure the post again thanks to the influence of local leaders who are hand in glove in the illicit timber trade.
Shashidhar Shetty, an activist based in the region, alleged, “Nagabhusan is working in the same region for some past 6-7 years and he was caught doing illegal activities. Among the illegal activities were the illegal felling of timber worth Rs 20 crore. An inquiry was held and it was prima facie found that he joined hands with the paper mills owner and now he is posted back again.”
He added, “In contrast you see an honest officer like Muniraju has been transferred 15 times in 17 years. He is a very sincere officer and whenever he makes a large scale seizure of poached items or recovers forest land, he is transferred. This is the sad state of affairs in our Karnataka Forest Department.”
Joseph Hoover, former member of the State Wildlife Board and convenor of activist group, United Conservation Movement, said, “It is disheartening that honest forest officers, like RFO Muniraj, who recovered 500 acres of forest which was encroached by a politician in Sirsi, is being punished and transferred for protecting our natural resources. Muniraj has been allegedly relocated at the behest of politicians.”
He added, “Officers with dubious records have the blessings of the politicians and government. Encouraged and buoyed with political patronage, they continue to destroy our forests.”