After row, Kerala cancels order permitting tree felling at Baby Dam in Mullaperiyar

The state government said that the November 5 order was "not legally binding", and therefore, it was decided by the Cabinet to cancel it.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijiyan wearing a white shirt and speaking to a mic
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijiyan wearing a white shirt and speaking to a mic
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The Kerala government on Wednesday, November 10, cancelled an order granting permission to Tamil Nadu for felling 15 trees downstream of Baby Dam at Mullaperiyar reservoir, with the state cabinet taking a decision to this effect. The development comes in the wake of the ruling CPI(M)-LDF facing flak, mainly from opposition Congress over the issue after Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin earlier thanked his Kerala counterpart Pinarayi Vijayan for his government allowing felling of the trees. As the move drew criticism in the state, the Kerala government later froze the order.

Since the November 5 order issued by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and the Chief Wildlife Warden was "not legally binding", it was decided by the Cabinet to cancel it, a statement issued by the government said on Wednesday. An official who prepared the order could face action, sources said.

Besides that, the Cabinet also decided to set up a three-tier committee to provide the state government with the necessary views and advice to take quick and accurate decisions on issues related to inter-state river water disputes, it added. Official sources said the government has also decided to take disciplinary action against chief wildlife warden Bennichan Thomas, who allegedly prepared the tree felling order and indicated he may be suspended from service.

The Congress-led UDF welcomed the government move to cancel the tree-felling order, with the Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly VD Satheesan claiming it was an outcome of their questioning the state government's decision. The Vijayan government was under attack from the opposition Congress-led bloc in the state Assembly for its controversial order granting permission to cut the trees. It had staged a walkout in the assembly earlier in the day over the issue.

Incidentally, on Tuesday, November 9, the Tamil Nadu government had released a copy of the "Proceedings of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden, Kerala," giving an order allowing it to fell 15 trees. While Tamil Nadu had sought nod for removal of 23 trees, permission was granted for clearing 15, which was also later frozen.

Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been at loggerheads over the century-old dam, with the former insisting the reservoir is not safe, and wants a new one in its place while its neighbour has been maintaining it was strong. Tamil Nadu Minister Duraimurugan had said last week that his government wants to carry out strengthening work in Baby Dam and finally raise the water level in the reservoir to 152 ft.

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