A month ago, an accused in the illegal tree felling and rosewood smuggling case publicly threatened to frame Kerala forest official Dhanesh Kumar in fake cases.

Kerala DFO Dhanesh Kumar
news Controversy Monday, August 30, 2021 - 17:24

From Commissioner and Superintendent of Police to Forest Department officials, there were scores of officers at the Aluva police club in Ernakulam district of Kerala when Anto Augustine, one of the prime accused in the Muttil illegal tree felling and rosewood smuggling case, was brought there on July 28 this year. “It was in the presence of these senior officers that the accused shouted my name and threatened to frame me in serious crimes, including anti-national and narcotic charges," alleged Dhanesh Kumar, the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Kozhikode flying squad.

Dhanesh is part of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that is probing the case, which involves the illegal felling of more than 100 rosewood trees that were planted at 28 sites within Muttil South village in Wayanad. Some of these trees were smuggled to other parts of the state. A total of 3 persons have been named as accused in the case, including Anto Augustine and his brother Roji Augustine. Dhanesh had played a major role in seizing the smuggled timber from a mill in Ernakulam and in the arrest of the Augustine brothers. His report on the Muttil case was also crucial in making the case stronger.

Dhanesh and Meppadi Range Forest officer Sameer MK stood firm in the case, which ultimately brought the smuggling to light. Soon, threats to kill them and foist fake cases against them ensued. A recent inquiry found that Sameer was framed in a fake tree felling case by NT Sajan IFS, a Conservator of Forests, and a senior journalist named Deepak Dharmadom. When some officers questioned the accused in jail, the latter allegedly threatened to kill Sameer and Dhanesh.

Following this, a few days ago, Dhanesh filed a petition with the SIT, seeking an inquiry into the death threats against him. Dhanesh gave a petition to the Chief Conservator of Forests, Kerala, seeking protection for him and his family. He also filed a petition with S Sreejith, Additional Director General of Police, Crime Branch, who is heading the SIT probing the case.

However, Dhanesh is no stranger to such threats to his and his family’s lives, and his career. In fact, he said, “Threats and murder attempts are now part of my life.”

In May 2016, a female elephant was shot dead at the 4th mile near Sulthan Bathery in Kerala’s Wayanad district. The Forest Department ruled out a few possibilities on the culprits — poachers were likely to kill tuskers (male elephants) for ivory; farmers would kill the elephant if it had encroached on their agricultural lands and destroyed the crops. However, it was a case where a female elephant was shot dead on a road. The forest officials finally rounded up a group of men, including Kulathunkal Shaji, a resort owner from Wayanad district.

Soon, however, the Wayanad Prakruthi Samrakshana Samithi, a people’s movement for the protection of the environment and forests, alleged that the arrests were “a trap” to frame some forest officials, especially then Wayanad Wildlife Warden P Dhanesh Kumar, an act of revenge for taking action against the illegal resort mafia, the non-governmental organisation (NGO) alleged. If a wild animal is killed within the limits of a wildlife warden, there will be action against the official. "I was about to get suspended. However, higher officials had the courtesy to understand the situation and what actually transpired," Dhanesh Kumar recalls the 2016 incident.

In 2005-2006, he had survived at least three murder attempts. About 300 people had even attacked his office after he took a stand on evicting encroachers who set up businesses on forest lands. By then, he had secured state government awards for wildlife conservation, tiger protection award, Wildlife protection society award and so on.

His name surfaced in the media in 2006 when he was posted as a forest range officer in Wayanad that year. It was a time when numerous poaching groups were active on the Kerala-Karnataka borders. "Though most of the poaching incidents happened on Karnataka borders, many Kerala natives were involved. That is how a Karnataka officer joined us and we conducted joint operations. We were able to significantly put a stop to the poaching, " Dhanesh Kumar recalled.

Dhanesh and his team were quite popular in 2006-2007 for their operations against poaching.

In 2006, during an operation against a sand mafia gang, an officer who was part of Dhanesh’s team was killed. "Officer Paul was on his way to meet me after an operation when the sand mafia attacked and killed him. I was depressed after that," Dhanesh Kumar said.

In 2008, even though he was transferred to the Chalakudy division in Thrissur, his interventions in poaching activities were notable. In 2008-2011, he and other officers were able to reclaim around 1,800 acres of encroached forest land in Nelliyampathy, Palakkad district. There was then another attempt to kill him in Thrissur. However, he managed to escape as the Intelligence Department had warned him.

His operation against sandalwood smuggling in Andhra Pradesh, headed by then Marayur DFO and 22 other officers, was also recognised by the Kerala government, which honoured them with awards. The officers busted a sandalwood mafia gang and arrested the accused who were hiding in Andhra Pradesh.

In 2012, he received another Sanctuary Wildlife Service Award. However, amidst all these honours and awards, Dhanesh continued to receive threats against him and his family. “There were also many attempts to kill me, but I escaped each time. While I was in Thrissur, I was given protection by the police," he said.

In the 2021 smuggling case, too, Dhanesh said he was included in the SIT to probe the illegal tree felling. Later, he was excluded following some alleged internal pressure. However, it soon triggered controversy, following which he was reinstated in the team.

Read : Understaffed and facing threats to life, Kerala’s Forest Dept officials speak out

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