B'luru major transit point for smuggling Red Sanders

B'luru major transit point for smuggling Red Sanders

All arrested are either Chinese or those with links to China

B'luru major transit point for smuggling Red Sanders

Bengaluru seems to have emerged as the major transit point to smuggle Red Sanders (locally known as Rakta Chandana) to China and other eastern countries where the demand for this wood has increased manifolds because of superstitious beliefs and traditional practices.

In 2014, Karnataka forest department and the police registered as many as 100 cases against those illegally transporting Red Sanders by road and rail, mainly from Bengaluru and its outskirts.

Besides, Customs officials at Kempegowda International Airport have booked two cases in the last two months. While police and forest officials seized over 500 tonnes of Red Sanders logs, Customs officials seized over 20 kgs of this wood which is also called as ‘Suitcase Wood’ as it is mostly carried in suitcases.

Customs officials have seized many small logs from luggage or those stuffed in musical instruments, toys and artifacts. Many of the suspects arrested by the sleuths are Chinese
nationals or those having some connections with that country.

Export of Red Sanders (Petrocarpus santalinus) is banned under Wildlife Protection Act 1972 - Schedule VI, CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list of threatened species.

Demand for Red Sanders is very high in China, Japan, Singapore and Korea. Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Vigilance) Venkat Subbaiah told Deccan Herald that the demand has been very high because of superstitious belief mainly in China that keeping Red Sanders in any form (log, furniture) brings good fortune.

Red Sanders is an endangered species and is found only in some pockets of Andhra Pradesh such as foothills of Tirupati, Nellore, Kadapa, Chittoor and some areas of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.

In 2014, the Andhra Pradesh government got permission from the Director General of Foreign Trade, India, to auction 850 tonnes of seized Red Sanders. Global tenders were called and notional value was fixed at Rs 26 lakh per tonne. In the guise of transporting Red Sanders for auction, happening since November 2014, many are illegally smuggling trees which are grown on private land.

They are using Bengaluru and its outskirts to store the illegal wood. Thus, the seizures have increased in the last few months. There is no market for Red Sanders in India, but is very high abroad, Subbaiah explained.

A former bureaucrat, who has been working on Red Sanders cases in south India and Odisha for the last one year, said: “If you analyse all those arrested, they are either Chinese or have some links to China. There is also a market for Red Sanders in Japan. Japanese are demanding it in large numbers to make their traditional musical instruments like shamisen and koto.

“Close examination has also shown that there is a network of Red Sanders smugglers and all this connects to Mohamed Musa, a Chennai-based smuggler who was arrested in Pune last month. There is a gang of over 50 men from Chennai who are operating from the foothills of Tirupati. While Andhra Pradesh government is striving to stop illegal trade, smugglers are using the Bengaluru route,” he added.

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