The Kerala government on Sunday froze an order by the Forest Department, granting permission to Tamil Nadu for felling 15 trees downstream of Baby Dam at Mullaperiyar reservoir and decided to take action against the officials who had issued it, a day after the neighbouring state's Chief Minister MK Stalin thanked his counterpart Pinarayi Vijayan for the decision.
Forest Minister AK Saseendran told the media that the order was an 'unusual one' and there was a serious lapse on the part of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden, who had issued the order. The Minister had earlier in the day said the order was passed without the knowledge of his office, or that of the Irrigation minister or the Chief Minister's Office. MK Stalin had on Saturday thanked Vijayan for "granting permission" for felling 15 trees downstream of the Baby Dam at Mullaperiyar reservoir and said he was informed by his officers of the Water Resources Department that the requisite permission was granted by the Forest Department of Kerala.
"There was a serious lapse on behalf of the Chief Conservator of Forests. The said order has been frozen. This was due to the lapses on behalf of the officials and we have decided to take further action in this regard. Under whatever circumstances, such important decisions cannot be made at the bureaucratic level. It's an unusual order. We will conduct a probe into the issuance of such an order and take necessary action," Mr Saseendran told the media.
In his message expressing gratitude, Mr Stalin reiterated Tamil Nadu's commitment to "undertake all steps needed to further strengthen the Mullaperiyar Dam" and ensure the safety of the people living downstream in Kerala.
However, this became a controversy in Kerala as the state's demand was for a new dam at Mullaperiyar and not strengthening of the Baby Dam.
The Opposition Congress and the BJP demanded the withdrawal of the order and attacked the state government.
KPCC chief K Sudhakaran alleged that the order was issued with the knowledge of the Chief Minister and demanded a judicial probe, apart from seeking the resignation of the forest minister.
"It's unbelievable that the order was issued without the knowledge of the state government. We demand a judicial probe in this matter. We have all the details with regard to this matter," Mr Sudhakaran said.
The Congress chief said many decisions were being taken without the knowledge of the minister concerned and sought his resignation.
Meanwhile, former minister and UDF MLA PJ Joseph said it was unbelievable that a bureaucrat has issued such an order. "Then the minister has no right to remain in that post. The said order should be withdrawn."
BJP state chief K Surendran also came out against the order and said the state government plans to make the officials a scapegoat in the issue.
"The CM and Saseendran are fooling the people of the state. They knew about the order," Mr Surendran alleged.
Amid the ongoing standoff with Kerala over the Mullaperiyar dam issue, Tamil Nadu Water Resources Department Minister Duraimurugan had on Friday said the water level in the reservoir would be raised to 152 feet after strengthening the Baby dam.
Both states are at loggerheads over the stability of the century-old structure, with Kerala insisting that it was not strong and Tamil Nadu saying it was not the case.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)