Smugglers targeting red sandalwood

Centre warns State that the precious wood is being illegally exported to China as vegetables

Sandalwood poachers are now focusing on the rare and critically endangered red sander (sandalwood). A well-knit mafia is exporting it illegally to China, according to a  letter dated November 30, 2010 to the two States from Rina Mitra, Additional Director of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) attached to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). She has alerted all the States requesting to prevent smuggling of this precious wood.

With a special focus on Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, the WCCB has said that instances of exports of the wood have been revealed at Nhava Sheva port in Maharashtra by an organised gang of criminals.

Explaining the modus operandi of the smugglers, Mitra said the logs were transported in small quantities along with vegetables, fish and other farm produces coming from both the states to the first level of storage places on the outskirts of cities like Bhubaneswar or Berhampur in Orissa, Kolkata, New Delhi and Mumbai.

“From these places, the second level operators transport the logs to second level storage places or to the ports for exports which are to be handled by second set of operators,” she said. Stating that the smuggling is carried out through ‘ring-in-ring’ (concurrent rings) network of criminals, the WCCB, on the recommendations of MOEF, has suggested several measures to curb such illegal activities.

Protected Status

The MOEF has suggested escalation of vigil in all field level formations, especially at exit points to monitor export cargo and inspect suspicious consignments. Red Sandalwood, known as Raktha Chandana is listed as an endangered wildlife species and is protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild fauna and flora (CITES) to which India is a signatory. Red sandalwood grows in natural conditions in Kolar and Sandur (Bellary) in Karnataka, and in Andhra Pradesh.

With the export of this wood being prohibited under EXIM policy, the export of the value added product is permitted only with valid permit from CITES.

Use of Red Sandalwood

According to Dr Satyanarayana Bhat, well known Ayurvedic expert, the wood is one of the best drugs used for various ailments. “It is the best drug on earth used for cardiac problems, urinary problems and treatment of skin and hair fall,” said Dr Bhat, adding that it is believed to be possessing anti-radioactivity properties. The wood has become almost extinct in the natural forest of Eastern Ghats, he said.

Import of Red sandalwood from India by China dates back several centuries, to the Ming and Qing periods when the wood was used to make classical Chinese furniture. It was also much coveted in West Asia. It is believed that  the Queen of  Sheba presented King Solomon with a tribute of red sandalwood logs.

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