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`Nexus between sandal mafia, Minister'

By Our Staff Reporter

KOCHI, FEB. 8. The Kerala High Court today observed that ordering of a vigilance inquiry against the forest officials who conducted raids on a factory showed that the accused in the case had direct access to the Minister for Forests, K.P. Vishwanathan, and were capable of getting any order from the State Government for the asking.

Justice K. Padmanabhan Nair said this while dismissing anticipatory-bail petitions filed by V. Musthapha, general manager, Walayar Rural Industries, and five other accused.

The court observed: "The averments in the bail petitions show that on a mere receipt of a telegram from the accused in the case addressed to the Minister for Forests, the Government took immediate steps by ordering a vigilance inquiry against the forest officers who detected the offence. These averments, if accepted, will establish the clear nexus between the sandalwood mafia and politicians."

The court said this ground alone was sufficient to refuse bail to the accused. In case anticipatory bail was granted, they would use their political clout to harass the officials concerned.

Prosecution stance

The Director-General of Prosecutions, P.V. Madhavan Nambiar, had opposed the grant of bail.

He had submitted that Walayar Rural Industries had been used as a base for illegal trade and transport of sandalwood for more than a decade.

According to him, three tonnes of sandalwood were seized and confiscated by the officials and 15 cases registered against the petitioners and the factory. The raid was conducted on January 13 following the arrest of S. Jayaram of Marayoor on the charge of possessing sandalwood pieces. The Devikulam forest officials had arrested him at Pallivasal. The investigation revealed that he was engaged in supplying sandalwood to the company, though it was closed down.

Smuggling

Earlier, two constables and two forest watchers who were posted for guarding the factory were arrested.

The investigation had revealed that the sandalwood pieces were smuggled to Pondicherry.

The court wondered how the petitioners brought the application by the forest officials for arrest warrants against the former on January 14 to the notice of the Minister the previous day.

The petitioners had alleged that cases were registered against them at the instance of Amarnath Shetty, Conservator of Forest, Eastern Circle, Olavakode.

According to them, the cases were foisted on them.

The forest officials from Munnar and Devikulam ranges had no jurisdiction to raid a factory in Walayar, they said.

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