Resin extraction contracts place the trees at risk
Halmaddi or dhoop trees (Ailanthus malabaricum) in Dakshina Kannada, the tall, palm-like cylindrical trees that yield the resin that is used in religious functions as dhoop, and in the incense stick and perfume industry, are threatened with extinction with the Forest Department deciding to lease them.
As many as 52,547 Halmaddi trees trees in the Mangalore Forest Division, in an area of 5,000 hectares have been leased out. At an auction held in the Range Forest Office in the city on February 7 and 10, the Department leased 27 out of 34 units of Halmaddi plots to the big time traders.
The widespread destruction of Halmaddi trees by illegal traders with the Forest department’s backing in Uttara Kannada three decades ago, had led to an outcry among environmentalists, resulting in the enforcement of ban on leasing Halmaddi trees in parts of the district.
Halmaddi is a natural, grey semi-liquid resin exuded by trees that belong to the Champa group. Dried resin is hygroscopic which means it absorbs moisture from the air. This can cause champa incenses to have a wet feeling to them. Nag Champa is probably the most famous incense of the champa group. Because of overextraction, the trees have been put on the red list by many research organisations.
Lessees violating rule
But the Mangalore Forest Division has leased out the trees in region for two years commencing from March 1, 2011 to February 28, 2013. Even before the work order was handed over to the lessees, many of them have started to extract resin from the trees in clear violation of rules.
Lessees were expected to get the work orders from the Department before February 28, but the High Court issued a stay on the process on a writ petition from LAMPS, an NGO in Puttur. Paying no heed to the stay order, some of the lessees began extracting resin on their plots, violating the set norms again.
Although the High Court vacated the stay on February 28, work orders are yet to be issued. This correspondent, who visited the plots in Balpa of Sullia taluk and Mundaje of Belthangady taluk, found workers extracting the resin from the tree.
Lying on the plot
The fresh resin was flowing from the tree and resin containers were found lying on the plot.
Despite the Forest Department banning tapping of trees with girth less than 91.5 cm, lessees were found violating the rule.
The red mark made by the Department on certain trees to identify them as ‘not to be tapped,’ has also been breached by the lessees who have started extracting resin even from the young trees.
Non systematic way
Speaking to Deccan Herald, Parisara Samrakshana Kendra, Sirsi, Project Co-ordinator Mahabaleshwara Hegde who has been fighting against Halmaddi tapping in Uttara Kannada district said, the improper method adopted while tapping the trees would lead to the quick death of the tree. “Halmaddi tree which has the capacity to yield continuously for 10 years if used properly, will perish within five years due to improper method of tapping,” he said.
Timber Sales Superintendent of the Forest Department P K Narayan said the Department has tendered the trees on a trial basis. “If the trees are not damaged by the lessees, then we would call for another tender after two years, or else we would look for other alternatives”, he said, adding that the department has given the plantation on lease to avoid illegal tapping of Halmaddi.
According to sources, LAMPS Co-operative Society is yet again preparing to file a writ against the tender, while another group is all set to file Public Interest Litigation to stop the tender.
Grey-white stuff sells in black
A Halmaddi tree which takes 20-25 years to grow completely and reach the stage where resin can be extracted from it. The tree yields on an average a kg of resin per year.
Though the current market rate for purified resin is Rs 500, it is sold at a very high rate in the black market. The resin is used for the making of Agarbatthi, perfumes and paints.