Illegal tree cutting on the Jnanabharathi campus of the Bangalore University (BU), responsible for the loss of thousands of sandalwood trees, has largely been tackled, much to the delight of tree lovers.
Residents credit the reduction in illegal tree cutting to the increased security on the campus, stepped up following the October 14 gang-rape of a student of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU). The number of trees cut illegally reached a record low in November, for the first time in 39 years. Since then, residents said they are seeing fully-grown sandalwood trees untouched.
Criminal activity is not new on the Jnanabharathi campus, since its establishment in 1973. Being the closest forest area to the City, the campus grounds were as much feared for the crimes against people as for illegal activities such as sandalwood smuggling.
Considered one of the best sandalwood reserves in the area, it had several full-grown trees in the 70s and 80s, which would have yielded good heart wood, the inner part of the tree which yields oil. But, the tree numbers went on a steady decline during the period due to the smuggling activities.
“Despite several complaints to the authorities, nothing was done about the problem till the recent spate of high-profile crimes,” residents said.
Jnanabharathi police inspector Balraj agreed that increased patrolling and security measures had resulted in a drastic reduction in illegal tree cutting activities. But he was quick to point out that one of the major problems in policing the campus is that it is not fenced completely.
“A Hoysala van and two Cheetah patrol vehicles have been permanently deployed on the campus,” he told Deccan Herald.
The enhanced police presence has had a visible impact on the campus. Roopashree, a resident who has been coming to the campus for her morning walks for several years, said felled trees used to be a common sight in the area.
“Almost every day during my morning walk, I would see one of them cut down or uprooted on the path between NLSIU and Gandhi Bhavan, particularly on the path adjoining the Vrishabhavathi river. These days, I have noticed that there is not a single tree chopped down,” she said.
Paramesh Naik, a researcher at the Environment Science Department of the Bangalore University, too has observed the change. “For the time being, the sandalwood theft has stopped,” he said.
“I don’t see anything now. It is all because the gates are closed at the NLSIU end from 9 pm and the police patrol the area regularly here as do home guards who can be found everywhere on the campus.”
The eight men arrested on charges of raping the girl were woodcutters from the Iruliga tribe in neighbouring Ramanagar district. Police suspect that the eight men were regular visitors to the campus and often cut down many timber trees, if not sandalwood.
The City police, in co-ordination with the BU authorities, tightened security on the campus especially at night, following widespread protests over the rape. While NLSIU has deployed more security on its campus, the Jnanabharathi Police close the campus gates at both ends from 9 pm to 6 am. This has largely restricted access to the campus for anti-social elements.
However, not everyone feels that all criminal activities have ended on the campus.
Dr Honnu Siddartha, president of the Bangalore University Teachers’ Council, says there are stray incidents of illegal tree cutting, which go unreported.
“I feel it happens in collusion with insiders. There are days when mature sandalwood trees are felled right in front of the faculty quarters inside the campus. Though such incidents do not happen now, these rare trees are not 100 per cent safe,” he said.