Felling of rosewood trees from Wayanad forests: HC turns down the bail plea

The Kerala High Court on Monday dismissed an anticipatory bail petition filed by three accused in the case relating to the illegal felling and removal of rosewood trees allegedly from a reserved forest at Muttil South village, in Wayanad.

The anticipatory bail petition was filed by Anto Augustine, Josekutty Augustine, and Roji Augustine, first, second and third accused respectively in the case. The prosecution case is that they had cut rosewood trees from the Meppadi reserve forest in Wayanad and illegally transported 54 logs of the timber using fake documents. The petitioners had submitted that they had cut and removed the trees after obtaining all the valid permits and licenses.

Dismissing their bail plea, Justice K. Haripal observed that setting the law in motion by registering forest crimes was justified. The conduct of the petitioners was capable of inferring the commission of forest offenses. The court also added that the petitioners had managed things by manipulating records and influencing the officials. Therefore, the petitioners were not entitled to get any relief from the Court.

The court further observed that the Village Officer was swayed by the applicants. Everything was done to appease and to toe the line of the persons who had applied for such certificates. He had strained his nerves very much. It was also clear that before cutting the trees no one had visited the property. The Village Officer had only seen some trees felled in the holdings of the petitioners. The authorized officer or the revenue officers were not alerted before cutting the trees.

The court said that unwanted haste in transporting the valuable timbers without obtaining cutting and transit passes from the authorised officer was highly suspicious.

The report of the Forest Range Officer also indicated that Mr. Roji Augustin had already collected an amount of Rs.1.40 crores from the Managing Director of Malabar Timbers, in Ernakulam on the promise that he would arrange more than 10,000 cubic feet of Rosewood. It was not known as to how he would arrange so much quantity of Rosewood. The materials produced by the petitioners themselves indicated that they had not come with clean hands. Therefore a discretionary relief of anticipatory bail could not be granted to the petitioners who had not acted bona fide, the court observed.

Opposing the bail pleas, Director General of Prosecution, Mr. T.A.Shaji contended that the petitioners had undertaken massive cutting of trees from reserved forests and transported 54 logwoods without obtaining the necessary permit from the Forest Range Officer or the DFO. The investigation had revealed that the quantity and size of the 54 rosewood timber logs seized from Karimugal, Ernakulam did not match with the timber cut and removed from the lands in Muttil, Wayanad. Besides, it was evident that the purchase invoice produced by the petitioner was fabricated.

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