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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Suspension of Kerala DFO Shajna Karim, politics and a reversal in Sugandhagiri, Wayanad

Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Shajna Karim is accused of illegal logging in Sugandhagiri Wayanad. The Kerala Government cancelled an order suspending her within hours. It is alleged that this reversal order came without the Forest Minister’s knowledge.

Karim has family roots in Thalassery in the Vadakara Lok Sabha constituency. Allegedly, her suspension has been frozen in haste because it will affect the minority votes that CPM candidate K. K. Shailaja might get.

Shailaja is the former Health Minister of Kerala from Kannur district who was tipped to become Kerala’s first woman chief minister. CM Pinarayi Vijayan desperately wants the lady to go to Delhi to avoid internal party conflicts. The secret behind the government’s decision not to punish Karim was to avoid losing minority votes as it was election time.

Eighteen persons, including Wayanad South DFO Shajna, were suspended from service due to illegal logging in Wayanad Sugandhagiri. The government revoked Karim’s suspension order within hours.

Even the forest department’s higher officials did not know Karim’s suspension order had been revoked. Forest department officials now opine that Kalpatta Range Officer K Neetu has been made the scapegoat in the Sugandhagiri tree felling case. There is resentment within the forest department against this.

Logging and destruction of valuable trees are prohibited in Kerala.

Visuals of illegal felling in Sugandhagiri surfaced on 2 April. A forest department vigilance team found 18 persons, including the DFO and a range officer, guilty of illegally logging more than 100 trees. It was disguised as a permit to cut 20 trees that ”threatened ”houses in a vanvasi colony in Sugandhagiri.

Earlier, the land was allotted to landless Vanvasis as part of the Sugandhagiri Cardamom Project. The government has considered it private land since its handing over in 1986. Incidentally, the state has yet to notify the same.

Footage showed tractors and cranes being used to fell the endangered forest trees. Teak, wild jack, blackboard and African shade trees were cut. The crime was conducted using the tribal as shields, and a a lot of timber was smuggled out of the place.

The vigilance report found that the forest official engaged in serious misconduct. They issued passes for tree-cutting without performing an inspection, delayed registering a case after learning that a crime was being committed and failed to conduct a thorough investigation.

Furthermore, it was discovered that the illicit activity went unnoticed for a long time. Even after instances were reported later, insufficient investigation work was done. This lag led to the removal of dozens of trees. Officers prevented the prompt discovery of felled stumps and enabled criminals to carry on with illegal timber smuggling.

Minister AK Saseendran instructed the Forest Department’s Additional Chief Secretary to discipline all 18 officers immediately. Pramod G Krishnan, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Administrative Section), took action on the recommendation of the Additional Principal Chief Forest Conservator, Vigilance Section.

Kasim’s suspension revocation gained a lot of publicity.

Saseendran said that the suspension order was issued without seeking an explanation from the DFO, which is why it was withdrawn. The minister said in the press conference that it was a mistake to issue the order without seeking an explanation.

A preliminary investigation was conducted when there was a complaint related to Sugandhangiri logging. As it was not satisfactory, a special investigation team was appointed.

Meanwhile, the suspension order was issued without seeking an explanation from the DFO. Sources informed us about the legal error. It would not stand in court since it was an order without following the procedure.

There was no political interference. Since it is an election, I do not directly interfere in many matters as a minister. Let the DFO explain, and the rest will be decided later.

Illegal logging is occurring in isolated areas. Decisive action will be taken against all of them. Saseendran also alleged that not a single UDF MP was ready to agree with the state government’s position that timely changes should be made to the Forest Act.

The forest minister failed to explain why only Karim was excluded.

Ibrahim from Varyad, Abdul Majeed from Meenangadi, Chandradas from Mandad, Abdunasar from Malanvayal, Hassankutty from Kaithapoyil and Hanifa from Eranjikal approached the court seeking bail. But the court turned down their applications. The court upheld the prosecution’s contention that evidence would likely be destroyed.

Northern CCF (Chief Conservator of Forests) KS Deepa coordinates the action. Who are the civilian profiteers behind this illegal felling?

Police reports have confirmed there is a Maoist presence in Sugandhangiri. The police said that it is difficult to catch them as the Maoists emerge with guns at night. Saseendran himself came forward demanding that police surveillance be strengthened in Sugandhangiri. Saseendran alleged that the resurgence of Maoists was due to the police’s lack of vigilance.

Sugandhagiri is less than 15 km from Kalpatta, the administrative headquarters and the only municipality in the Wayanad district. Kalpatta lies on the Kozhikode-Mysore national highway. On the other side of Sugandhagiri lies the vast, thickly vegetated Malabar Wildlife Sanctuary forests.

Saseendran is the sole Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLA in Kerala, yet his party has received a ministership. NCP handles the Kerala Forests portfolio. NCP leader Mohammed Faizal P P represented Lakshadweep in the Lok Sabha.

In January last year, HinduPost reported that disgraced Lakshadweep MP Faizal had been under the scrutiny of the central intelligence agencies Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and National Investigation Agency (NIA) for quite a while, as per The Malayala Manorama. He visited the Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary’s Forest Department Inspection Bungalow (IB) in the Kannur district several times covertly.

The Lakshadweep MP arrived here 23 times during the 2019-22 period, but allegedly, there was no official record. Here, Faizal reportedly held closed-door meetings with certain film producers and jewellery owners from Thayyil, Kannur. Thayyil is a known centre of the gold smuggling mafia. They alleged Faizal’s hand in the gold smuggling racket. 

Marunadan Malayalee reported that a lady Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) accompanied and helped Faizal. Both media houses refused to name the alleged accomplice.

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