Kochi: The shine of the highly trumpeted ‘second coming’ of the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala is lost within weeks of its assumption of power, following expose of a massive loot of forest and other governmental wealth along the fabled Western Ghats and beyond.
A re-energised Congress and the United Democratic Front (UDF) it leads energetically took up a visual media report of the large-scale cutting down of highly priced trees like Veeti and Teak from across districts in the western sector in recent months. The loot, in which an individual known to have links with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan stood in the front, is suspected to be of the order of over Rs 100crore. The Kerala high court is seized of the matter though there is pessimism as to how this case will be taken to its logical conclusion.
The loot was facilitated by a state government order issued last year in the backdrop of the Covid-induced paralysis of life. Months later, the GO was withdrawn. The suspected plan was to provide a window of opportunity to facilitate the loot with strong political backing. Communist parties, the CPIM and the CPI, are largely infested with corrupt elements as they handled power in the state for long years, meaning half of the past 70 years. CPI ministers handled the revenue and forest departments when the massive felling of prized trees from forest and poramboke lands took place.
The perceived weak organizational strength of the Congress, its ageing leadership that has now been changed, as also substantial support from Muslim and Christian minorities to ably checkmate the forays of the BJP-RSS in the state helped the LDF return to power this time. Added to this was the free food kits distribution by the first Pinarayi-led government.
Some officials have been suspended and an investigation ordered by the state government into the loot of forest and revenue wealth in a highly coordinated and mischievous manner by gangs with help from top government entities. There are strict rules guiding removal of trees on the Western Ghats, but the forest flying squads were forced by governmental entities to look the other way.
Now, question marks are raised as to the sincerity of the government as regards the present investigations, seen by many as a farce. The top cop who has been entrusted with the investigations is known to be a confidant of chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
The state government took the position that no forest trees were cut and the land in the possession of adivasis and other farmers along the Western Ghats in Wayanad and adjoining districts were denuded. This, it says, was done by “wrongly interpreting” the government order which was “only meant to help farmers.”
The deed is done and the state lost heavily. The BJP has taken up the matter with the Union minister for environment and forests, Prakash Javadekar. He promptly sought a report from the forest department. However, since some BJP leaders are involved in a havala money transaction in the context of distribution of assembly poll funds for the 2021 April assembly polls, a quid pro quo between the LDF government and the BJP to hush up both cases is likely, feel Congress leaders....