Tuesday, Jun 24, 2003
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By Our Special Correspondent
While the Minister pleaded helplessness in dealing with the sandal oil extraction units claiming that the Kerala High Court had quashed the 1999 Government Order empowering it to grant No Objection Certificates (NOCs) to the sandal oil extraction units, the Opposition leader quoted the same verdict to show that the Government indeed had powers to act decisively to check the operations of the sandal oil units. He accused the Minister of having misinterpreted the Court verdict on the floor of the House to shield the illegal activities of the sandal oil units. The matter remained unresolved despite the Minister trying hard to convince the media at a news conference outside the Assembly hall.
Earlier, while replying to the submission, he announced that the Government would take a decision on the future of the 14 sandal oil units currently in operation in the State within two months and that the Government had decided to go in for a CBI inquiry into the theft of sandal oil from the Forest Department's strong-room at Olavakkode. He said the Government was ready to extend the CBI probe to the loss of sandal oil from the strong-room in Taliparamba and added that the decision to go in for the CBI probe was taken because the Crime Branch inquiry had proved to be futile. He also claimed that the Chief Minister, A. K. Antony, had not stayed the transfer of Forest officials as reported in a section of the media.
Mr. Sudhakaran said the Cabinet sub-committee constituted to study the future of the sandal oil units had met twice and hoped to arrive at a decision on whether to legalise oil extraction by the private sector or to nationalise the units in two months' time. The High Court had, on July 15, 2002, quashed the 1999 Government Order authorising the Forest Department to issue NOCs to the sandal oil units. With this, the department had lost the power to initiate action against the sandal oil units, he said.
He also took a dig at the CPI(M) pointing out that since majority of the sandal oil units functioned in panchayats controlled by the CPI(M), including some in Malampuzha, the Opposition leader's constituency, and on the strength of licences issued by these panchayats, the CPI(M) would do well to ask its people to withhold licences. If the CPI(M) did so, the sandal units would cease to function, he said.
However, when asked at the news conference how the panchayats could issue licences when the High Court had cited NOCs to be issued by District Forest Officers as a precondition for such a measure, Mr. Sudhakaran said the Forest Department was no longer issuing NOCs. His case was that the factories were functioning without obtaining NOCs from the department. When asked repeatedly why the department was not taking action against such units, he once again repeated the argument that the department did not have the power to do so.
On the allegation that the Chief Minister had stayed transfers ordered by his department, Mr. Sudhakaran told the House that this was not true. All that the Chief Minister had written in the file was `Discuss'. This did not amount to a stay and he would not like to remain in the Cabinet if there was indeed a stay on the transfers, Mr. Sudhakaran said.
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