The process of granting the now-frozen permission to Tamil Nadu to fell 15 trees in a 40-cent area near the Mullaperiyar dam site to facilitate Tamil Nadu to strengthen the baby dam was going on for some time, suggest a set of documents accessed by The Hindu.
Records of the third secretary-level meeting between Kerala and Tamil Nadu to review the Parambikulam-Aliyar agreement, Pandiyar-Punnapuzha scheme, Mullaperiyar dam and other interstate matters on September 17 indicate that Kerala’s principal secretary for forest and wildlife told the meeting that “permission for cutting down the identified 15 trees is being processed”.
Submission in SC
This was also mentioned in the written submission made by Kerala before the Supreme Court in October. “It was agreed in the secretary-level meeting held on 17.9.2021 to give permission for transportation of materials needed to carry out balance strengthening measures of the Baby Dam by the Govt of Tamil Nadu and also cutting and removal of few trees. GoTN was asked to submit an application for tree cutting in proper format, but the same has not been submitted… (sic),” reads the note.
While the November 7 order issued by the principal secretary freezing the chief wildlife warden’s permission to cut the trees cites the need for clearances from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the standing committee of the National Wildlife Board, forest officials cite a 1997 communication from the Deputy Inspector General of Forests and an opinion given by then Attorney General to argue that no clearances are required under the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 for undertaking activities on forestland leased before October 25, 1980.
“The Periyar Lake Lease Agreement, originally executed in 1886 and marginally amended in 1970, therefore enjoys this exemption and the chief wildlife warden’s grant of permission is in order,” said a senior Forest official on condition of anonymity. According to this 1997 legal opinion, permission under the Forest Conservation Act is not required to carry out any activity that does not involve breaking up or clearing of forestland.
Further, the minutes of the Supreme Court-appointed three-member Supervisory Committee’s October 26 meeting show that Kerala agreed to expedite all the pending forest clearances for maintenance of the approach road and “carrying out balance strengthening measures of the baby dam” by Tamil Nadu.