Fresh trouble for Chaudhary Lal Singh: Former J&K forest minister accused of bending rules to supply cutch wood to factories

BJP MLA and former Jammu and Kashmir forest minister, Chaudhary Lal Singh, who was forced to resign from the state government following his participation in a rally demanding a CBI probe into the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua, is in fresh trouble. The police is probing his involvement in charges of favoritism in supply of wood of the Cutch tree in excessive quantities to some factory owners, more than what was permissible under the rules.

Police and forest department officials carried out raids at factories in Kathua and Samba on Friday and Saturday, following complaints that the former forest minister Lal Singh, along with forest department officials, resorted to favouritism, and that records were fudged to supply wood to factories.

 Fresh trouble for Chaudhary Lal Singh: Former J&K forest minister accused of bending rules to supply cutch wood to factories

Choudhary Lal Singh led a protest rally in Jammu demanding a CBI probe into the Kathua rape case. PTI

The complaint was filed by one Ravinder Dhotra of Smailpur village of Samba, alleging that the forest minister, in connivance with forest department officials, favoured the factory owners and the wood collection from the local growers was higher than the permissible limit.

A case of cheating under Section 420 of the RPC has been filed at the Lakhanpur police station, and the police has seized documents related to the purchase of wood of the Cutch tree — also known as Acacia Catechu — by the factory owners from the  growers.

Inspector general of police, Jammu, SD Singh Jamwal, said that a case has been registered and Lal Singh's involvement is being ascertained.

The raids came amid indications that Lal Singh and another BJP MLA and former minister, Chander Prakash Ganga, may be re-inducted into the Cabinet. This is despite a strong lobby that's pressuring the party against inducting the duo in light of allegations that they were involved in protests against their own government.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is holding a meeting on Monday in New Delhi to work out the details of the proposed reshuffle, party spokesperson Sunil Sethi had said. There is a likelihood that some ministers may be dropped, while "new faces would be inducted", he had confirmed.

Differences between alliance partners BJP and PDP have widened in the aftermath of the Kathua rape case and Lal Singh's involvement in the protests.

Minister of state for forest, Zahoor Ahmad Mir of the PDP, also said they are ascertaining complaints of Lal Singh's shareholding in some of the factories.

Officials said that there is a ban on felling of the Catechu trees which was enforced after a Supreme Court order in the case. The
prohibitory orders were however revoked by the apex court in 2015, following which some factories were opened in Jammu. The three factories which were raided in Kathua and Samba this week had started processing work in 2016, and each had made an investment worth between Rs 2 crore to Rs 2.5 crore on plant and machinery.

Forest department officials said they received a letter from the police seeking details about the government policy to issue licences and extraction of wood. Licences to the factories are being issued by the forest department which also charges Rs 20 per quintal as transportation fee for ferrying the wood from a private grower to the factory.

The government has set a limit on the sale of wood after the reckless felling of trees. In Kathua, the limit is 3,900 cubic metre each year, while it is 10,000 cubic metre in Jammu, officials said.

Jamwal said that the police has raided the factories and is ascertaining that whether the limit has been violated.  The complaint
alleges that there were gross irregularities in violating the maximum limit.

In view of the reckless felling of trees, the government's revenue department also issues certificates for the extraction, and has
also demarcated the villages from which the wood can logged.

A senior official of the forest department said on anonymity that there was no minimum support price (MSP) for the wood and the price was decided by the contractors with the growers. A group of contractors sells the wood to the factories which is being
processed by them. The police and the revenue department have to jointly monitor the sale of the wood on the basis of the enumeration of plants, which Ravinder Dhotra has alleged, was not done.

The police is also looking at the laxity in sale of the wood which is also exported and whose extracts are used in the treatment of many diseases including Asthma and Bronchitis.

Despite repeated attempts, Lal Singh was not available for comments. Text messages on his phone went unanswered.

Updated Date: Apr 21, 2018 18:48:25 IST