KOCHI: A team of officers from the Forest Department on Friday raided Kitco and Rajagiri College of Social Sciences and seized 1,223 kg of honey worth around Rs 4 lakh. A case has been booked against three women employees of these institutions on charges of unauthorised procurement and transportation of forest produce. The case has been transferred to the Mekkappala Forest Station.
The honey was procured from tribal women who cultivated it under the women empowerment programme implemented by Kitco through Rajagiri College as part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) project.
Meanwhile, Ernakulam Forest Flying Squad officer G Krishnadas, who led the raid, received an order transferring him to Idukki. The officer had assumed office at Ernakulam barely three months ago.
The officers conducted the raid following an information Kitco had illegally procured and transported honey from the tribal settlement colonies. The team seized 640 kg of honey packed in one-litre bottles from the Kitco office. As many as 583 bottles of honey were seized from Rajagiri College.
“Any person procuring forest produce from tribal colonies should secure a transit permit from the Forest Department. The honey was cultivated in the tribal settlement colonies of Panthapra, Kunjipara and Thalavachapara located inside the forest. A case for trespassing into the forest and illegal procurement of forest produce has been registered. Nobody has been arrested,” said Range Officer Krishnadas. However, Kitco MD Cyriac Davies said it was only a technical fault. “We have been implementing a women empowerment programme through Rajagiri Outreach, a registered NGO, in the tribal colonies for the past three years. As cultivated honey can’t be sold as forest produce, we collected it from farmers at the rate of `300 per kg and were trying to market it. We didn’t know we had to get a transit permit from the Forest Department,” he said.
Rajagiri College of Social Sciences principal Binoy Joseph said Rajagiri Outreach has not done anything illegal. “We were implementing the CSR project of Kitco. It was for Kitco to obtain the permission from the department concerned. The project was intended to provide a livelihood to tribal women. We tried to market the honey to ensure better price for their produce,” he said.
Kitco had landed in trouble after RTI activist N Sivakumar alleged the company had siphoned off `53.23 lakh in the name of empowering tribal women. The annual report of Kitco said the company had been implementing a CSR project in three tribal settlements located inside Kuttampuzha Forest.
However, the Forest Department said Kitco did not seek permission to enter the forest. As per the Forest Act, any person visiting the tribal settlements should get permission from the Forest Department. Only the Forest Development Agency has the authority to implement projects in the tribal colonies. Only Vanashree has the authority to collect and market forest produce collected by the tribals.