Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Forest Department orders inquiry

Thiruvananthapuram: The Forest Department on Wednesday ordered an investigation into the construction of two check dams inside the disputed Merchiston tea estate in the ecologically fragile Agastyamalai Biosphere Reserve, near Ponmudi hill station.

Official sources said the department had sought the Advocate-Generals opinion whether it could prosecute the firm claiming ownership of the estate under section 27 of the Kerala Forest Act. The section was non-bailable and carried a punishment of up to five years of imprisonment.

Investigators said the check dams were constructed for irrigation and the firm claimed to have got prior sanction.

The firm had �purchased the 700-acre estate from another plantation company in 2005. At the time, the estate was vested with the government under the provisions of the Kerala Forests (Vesting and Management of Ecologically Fragile Lands) (EFL) Ordinance 2000.

When the ordinance became an Act in 2005, the firm claimed that the government had excluded the estate from the purview of �EFL.

In 2007, the then Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF), who was also the custodian of Ecologically Fragile Lands, re-notified the estate as EFL and directed the firm to vacate it. (The firm had challenged his order in the High Court).

The CCF overruled an order by his predecessor to exclude the estate from the purview of the Act on the ground that the firm had made an �incompetent application.

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