Shady deal?

Friday 15 August 2003

Corruption charges are flying thick and fast against Kerala forest minister K Sudhakaran and the state forest department (fd). The opposition Left Democratic Front (ldf) has accused Sudhakaran of accepting bribes worth Rs 5 crore in a softwood auction involving the now defunct Mavoor unit of Grasim Industries Limited (gil). On July 7, opposition leader V S Achuthanandan alleged in the state assembly that the minister received illegal gratification to exempt gil from meeting its contractual obligations and liabilities after the pulp unit at Mavoor shut down.

Ever since the closure in 1999, about 131,000 tonnes of bamboo and softwood were left to rot in the various gil depots. As per the agreement, the state government was free to recover compensation at market rates. But the fd certified the wood as worthless, auctioned it off in bulk and ended up exempting the company from paying its dues at prevalent prices, Achuthanandan charged.

Sudhakaran refuted the allegations saying the fd had auctioned the softwood to realise "at least some amount from a company that had a reputation of evading payments". He also claimed the chief conservators of forests (ccf), vigilance and northern range, and the Kerala Forest Research Institute had certified that the raw material was worthless. He has now served a legal notice on Achuthanandan.

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