With the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) keeping up its diatribe against the ruling Congress on the issue of axing of trees, the state assembly was witness to an angry exchange of words between chief minister Virbhadra Singh and former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal. The opposition, later, staged a walkout.
The noisy scenes stated when senior BJP leaders Ravinder Singh Ravi - time and again - tried to raise a point of order to take up the issue of large-scale tree felling in Chamba's Almi beat. However, speaker Brij Biharli Lal Butail asked the minister and legislator to first lay copy of reports of various committees listed against their names.
Pandemonium after CM allowed to speak
Pandemonium prevailed in the House when the speaker allowed chief minister Virbhadra Singh to make a statement related to a government report that verified illicit tree-felling in Chamba's Almi beat. The CM read out his statement amid sloganeering of the opposition, seething at the non-acceptance of its demand for raising a point of order.
All opposition members raised slogans against forest minister Thakur Singh Bharmouri with some alleging that the government had attempted to push the matter under the carpet. The CM alleged that it was only during BJP CM Prem Kumar Dhumal's regime that the axed trees were marked in Almi forest beat.
Defending forest minister Thakur Singh Bharmouri, Singh said soon after receiving information of illicit felling, the government had conducted an inquiry.
Saying that heads will roll, the CM repeatedly blamed the BJP government since trees were marked during its regime. "The state government has taken action as an FIR had been lodged against three forest department officials and the Himachal Forest Development Corporation, who are under suspension."
"Disciplinary proceedings have been initiated against officials concerned of department and corporation and joint committee (JC) comprising officers of police, forest department and corporation was constituted to physically inspect the entire area where the alleged illicit felling took place," Singh said adding that because the area was snowbound the team could visit the spot on in June 2015.
Singh said that state government had received a report from the Joint action committee on July 23, 2015, which stated that prima facie it did seem that 1,807 trees have been felled illicitly at the place.
On August 18, 2015, after an examination of the report, the government issued directions to the
department for the registration of another FIR, if required, or else the findings of the report be shared with the investigating officer in the FIR already registered so the no aspect of the offence is omitted. It asked the department to levy exemplary damages or penalty on the concerned contractors and also the forest corporation, fixing specific responsibility upon officials of both the forest department of the HFDC at each level and initiate immediate disciplinary proceeding against such officials without any prejudice to and in addition to the criminal proceedings already launched or to be initiated.
"The responsibility for this irregularity lies on the previous government since tree was marked in 2012 when BJP was in power and the lot was handed over to the forest corporation in December 2012, a few days before the Congress regime took over," the CM claimed.
Dhumal brands statement as misleading
Agitated over Virbhadra Singh's statement, former CM Dhumal blamed him of "misleading" the house. Pressing for the forest minister's resignation, Dhumal alleged that the responsibility of this government to check green felling as it took place during its tenure and trees marked during last government was remarked in Jun 2013. Dhumal claimed that more than 1,843 trees have been axed illicitly included 403 others which were marked legally and demanded the government to table enquiry on the floor of house.
Responding to this, the CM claimed, "The trees felled were marked during the BJP rule. An FIR should be registered against the former forest minister."
Dhumal stuck to his demand that action should be initiated from top to bottom and accussed the CM of shielding the forest minister. The BJP staged a walkout when Dhumal referred to tree felling in Taradevi, which Virbhadra Singh ridiculed claiming that those were just the bushes.