A massive deforestation drive, hitherto unseen in the State, has denuded Kerala of its already fragile green cover. A senior Forest Department official told The Pioneer that the felling of trees from the reserve forests and its peripheries was in violation of the Articles in Indian Constitution dealing with the preservation of environment and forests.
“Kerala had 35 per cent forest cover till the early 1970s. But widespread deforestation during the reign of C Achutha Menon and K Karunakaran as chief Ministers saw deforestation of the reserve forests in the State. The then Forest Minister K G Adiyodi, a Congress leader had to quit following the Kerala High Court’s observation that the slaughtering of invaluable and exotic trees took place with official connivance,” said the officer designated as Conservator of Forests. He did not want his name to be quoted for obvious reasons.
He said the massive felling of trees in Wynadu, Idukki and Pathanamtyhitta districts were more severe that what was witnessed during the 1970s. “The forest cover over the State was just 11 per cent but that too is a fudged figure because the remote sensing satellite images rate the rubber plantations too as forest cover,” said the Conservator of Forests , a widely respected environmentalist.
Kummanam Rajasekharan, environmental activist and former Governor of Mizoram, who personally inspected the forest sites from where the rare trees were cut down described it as poaching of forests perpetrated by the Kerala Government. “This is destruction of forests of the worst kind. Ministers, bureaucrats and brigands are behind this scale of tree felling,” said Rajasekharan,
A K Saseendran, the new Forest Minister, who last week had washed his hands off the slaughtering of trees made a volte face on Monday and stated that the decision to fell the trees was taken observing all departmental formalities. “We had held discussions with the revenue department before the order to cut down the trees was issued. There is no misunderstanding between ministers or officers on this issue,” Saseendran told reporters at Thiruvananthapuram on Monday. He also said that the decision to transfer certain forest officials was taken by the Department of Forest. Saseendran, who had expressed reservation in accepting the Forest portfolio, had said last week that the officers were shunted out by the Revenue Department and he had no role in it.
The seriousness of the felling of trees in the State was brought to light when a tribal settler disclosed that he was paid Rs 80,000/- to cut down a tree from his plot of land by the contractors. “This means that the particular single tree costs more than Rs 3,00,000/- in the market,” said P K Ramachandran, botanist and former head of the Kerala State BioDiversity Board.
He said the Forest and Revenue Departments had the authority to slaughter listed trees which are 30 years old and planted by the departments. “But trees from areas marked as forest should never be touched by anyone and the laws are clear about it. There is a list of trees which could be slaughtered from non-forest regions. But what I saw was that exotic trees like teak and rosewood that command dream values were cut down indiscriminately and this is an open violation of the Indian Constitution,” said Ramachandran who spends his retirement days by attending to the rare collection of trees, plants and medicinal herbs which he had planted in his family property.