Kerala axes Mullaperiyar dam tree felling order, suspends official


Even as Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan continues his silence over the fiasco arising after state Forest Minister A.K. Saseendran froze the Forest Department’s order to fell trees, on Tamil Nadu’s request, to strengthen the baby dam near the ageing Mullaperiyar dam, the order was cancelled on Wednesday.

Along with the cancellation came the suspension of the official who issued it.

The news of cancelling the order came out after the weekly cabinet meeting presided by Vijayan concluded on Wednesday night.

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Bennychen P. Thomas, who had issued the order last week, has been suspended and Chief Secretary V.P. Joy has been asked to probe if there was a lapse by any other official.

Saseendran early this week said that that the political leadership and the state government had no role in the decision to allow Tamil Nadu to fell trees and they came to know of the order only after it came out and since they had no clue about it, the order has been frozen.

Had it not been a letter from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K.Stalin extending thanks for the permission to fell the trees surfacing in the media, the incident would have gone unnoticed.

The now controversial order, which was dated November 5, surfaced on November 6 and reportedly the government claims it noticed it on Sunday, which the opposition says has been proved a bluff.

The Congress-led opposition, ever since Stalin’s letter surfaced, has been going hammer and tongs against Vijayan, saying he had compromised the interests of the state and the ruling party’s cries of the safety of the aging dam and construction of a new dam was all a farce.

And soon came Saseendran’s statement that he has seen the order but they have no clue how this order surfaced and the opposition soon came out with records to prove that this was wrong.

On Wednesday came another statement from Water Resources Minister Roshy Augustine, who represents Idukki assembly constituency, where the dam is located, categorically saying that there was no order or no such meeting took place which was contradicting Saseendran’s statement.

Leader of Opposition V.D. Satheesan said strange things are happening in Kerala under Vijayan.

“What we now hear is the order has been cancelled and it’s because of the strong position that we took, but what we fail to understand is even as Vijayan maintains stoic silence on this issue, there is absolute chaos in his cabinet as on the same issue, we have now heard ministers making contradicting statements on the order. We are certain something fishy has happened and for that to come out, a judicial probe has to be initiated – the political leadership is trying to wash their hands of it by putting the blame on the officials,” said Satheesan.

All this is happening at a time when the apex court is already hearing a petition and on October 25, it had asked the Kerala government to refrain from debating the issue regarding suitable height of the water level in the Mullaperiyar dam before it, and rather engage with Tamil Nadu government and the expert committee.