The controversy over the removal of sand from Triveni at Pampa in the foothills of Sabarimala took a new turn on Wednesday with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan insisting that the Pathanamthitta District Collector had the full authority to order the desilting of the river under the provisions of the Disaster Management (DM) Act.
At his daily news conference, Mr. Vijayan said the Forest Department had “misunderstood” that removing silt from the bed of a river that meandered through the middle of protected woodland somehow violated the Forest Conservation Act.
Immediate action to remove silt and sand from rivers to restore water flow was imperative given the threat of flooding during the monsoon. In the face of such an impending peril, the DM Act prevailed over the Forest Act, he said.
The Kerala Clays and Ceramic Products Ltd. can remove the sediment as ordered by the Collector under the DM Act. The Forest Department had no authority to challenge the powers of the Collector as chairperson of the District Disaster Management Authority, Mr. Vijayan said.
Audit by Collector
However, no entity could sell the sand as it belonged to the government.
The priority was not the sale of river sand but flood prevention, he added. Moreover, the Collector would monitor the removal of sand and audit it. The removers have to deposit the silt in a safe area.
The Opposition had sought to make a political issue out of the purported split between the Forest Department headed by K. Raju of the Communist Party of India and Mr. Vijayan over the issue of desilting the Pampa.
The Forest Department had issued an order countermanding the one issued by the Collector authorising the removal of sand soon after Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala had accused the government of having used flood preparedness as a cover to bypass the Forest Conservation Act to accord financial advantage to a public sector entity headed by a functionary of the CPI(M).