The Kerala government has frozen the order issued by its forest department that granted permission to Tamil Nadu to fell trees in Mullaperiyar. The permission was reportedly granted to Tamil Nadu without the state machinery and key ministers even having a whiff of it.
Kerala forest minister AK Saseendran has said that officer who is responsible for issuing the permission will have to face action.
The matter came to light after Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin had on Saturday thanked his Kerala counterpart Pinarayi Vijayan for granting permission for felling 15 trees downstream of the Baby Dam at Mullaperiyar reservoir to facilitate the strengthening of the Baby Dam.
Saseendran, however, responded to Stalin’s ‘thanks’ saying no permission was granted to Tamil Nadu to fell trees as per his knowledge. Saseendran then asked the chief principal conservator of forests for a detailed report.
“If there is such a situation, then it should be informed to the government. As far as I understand, the chief minister’s office, irrigation minister’s office or my office are not aware of such a decision. There is a lapse. From the news reports, I understand that permission was granted and they have started felling trees. We have sought a report from officials concerned,” Saseendran told the media.
In his message expressing gratitude, Stalin reiterated Tamil Nadu’s commitment to “undertake all steps needed to further strengthen the Mullaperiyar Dam” and ensure the safety of the people living downstream in Kerala.
This, however, became a controversy in Kerala as the state’s demand has been for a new dam at Mullaperiyar and not strengthening of Baby Dam.
Amid the standoff with Kerala over the Mullaperiyar dam issue, Tamil Nadu Water Resources Department minister Durai Murugan had on Friday said the water level in the reservoir would be raised to 152 feet after strengthening the Baby Dam.
Both states are at loggerheads over the stability of the century-old structure, with Kerala insisting that it was not strong while Tamil Nadu saying it was not the case.
Peerumedu MLA Vazhoor Soman told the media that the permission was given by the principal chief conservator of forests (Wildlife) and chief wildlife warden.
“The government was not aware of this. The state government’s stand is a new dam for Kerala and water for Tamil Nadu. Strengthening of the Baby Dam was against the state government policy and such a decision to fell the trees should have been informed to the state government. This was not a decision which could have been taken by the bureaucracy,” Soman told media.
Defending the government, Saseendran said, “Whatever be the situation, the state government should also be aware of what’s happening when a crucial decision is taken. The officials are not above the government. The situation was discussed with the chief minister on Saturday itself.”
The decision to freeze the permission reportedly came after chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan intervened in the issue.
The opposition in Kerala has, however, attacked the government with former minister and UDF MLA PJ Joseph saying it was unbelievable that a bureaucrat has issued such an order.
BJP state chief K Surendran lashed out at the state government saying the administration plans to make the officials a scapegoat in the incident.
“The CM and Saseendran are fooling the people of the state. They knew about the order,” Surendran alleged.