On Tuesday, June 8, the UDF opposition in Kerala brought up the case where rosewood trees worth Rs 10 crore were cut down and smuggled from the interior Wayanad, in the Assembly. Following this, on Wednesday, June 9, the High Court refused to stay the case, after the accused in the case approached the court. The Kerala government informed the court that what has come out was only the tip of the iceberg and so far 37 cases have been registered in this matter and the probe is going on.
The petitioners, who include three brothers alleged to be behind the felling of the rosewood trees, argued that they did this based on an order of the Revenue Department. The department allowed felling of trees with the exception of sandalwood trees in certain areas. They argued that the land from where the trees were cut was not forest land, and hence the forest department has no role, but with the Kerala government taking a strong stand the stay demanded by them was turned down by the court.
The order to cut the trees came from the Revenue Department in October 2020, which drew major flak from the tribal communities that live in the area. The trees were reportedly cut on February 3, 2021, and were moved to a wood mill hundreds of kilometres away.
During the Assembly session, The Congress led UDF opposition wanted to know from Forest Minister AK Saseendran if this was done by people belonging to his party. Saseendran denied this, and said that he became a minister just a few weeks ago and promised strong action against those who have broken the law.
The issue was first brought up by senior Congress legislator PT Thomas, who pointed out that the scam was made possible by a suspicious order from the Revenue Department which came last October and which allowed the felling of trees, except sandalwood trees, in certain areas.
The Kerala Police and the Kerala Forest Department have started a probe into this. Joining the issue was state BJP president K Surendran. According to sources, to put pressure on the Pinarayi Vijayan government, he is likely to take up this case with Union Forest Minister and his party colleague Prakash Javadekar to see if they can also join the probe.