Forest dept needs more powers to check smuggling of sandalwood

Involvement of tribals suspected; police support sought

Sandalwood smuggling has been rampant in the district for years. But it is alarming to note that the Forest Department has not been able to solve many such cases.

Though more than 250 trees have been chopped off illegally and smuggled in the past five years, only 80 cases have been registered and only a few cases have been solved. Over the past five years, 52 cases have come to light in Mysuru sub-division and 28 cases in Hunsur.

A Forest Department official said the members of gangs are divided into groups for smuggling. “While a few people identify well-grown trees, another group chops them.

In most cases, tribals inside forests are hired to chop and transport trees. Both the groups operate according to the directions of the kingpin and do not maintain any contact between each other. At present, one kg of sandalwood costs up to Rs 10,000,” he said.

According to an official, the illegal trade is extending to neighbouring states and the department needs police assistance to identify culprits and protect trees. He said authorities register cases under Karnataka Forest Act Section 84-87 for smuggling of sandalwood trees and Forest officials investigate the case. Under the Act, there is a provision for imprisonment of accused ranging between five and seven years.

Taking note of the issue and to protect sandalwood trees, the department has deputed guards and has also intensified night patrolling in sensitive areas. A case in point being sandalwood smuggler Shankar of H D Kote taluk, who was recently killed by the Forest Department personnel on Lingambudhi Lake premises when he, along with his aides, was illegally chopping a tree.

In another case, the forest officials took three persons into custody about three weeks ago in Hunsur taluk for smuggling 16 kg of sandalwood. Though the authorities are interrogating the suspects, they are tight-lipped about other people involved in the case.

According to sources, the trio had altogether chopped 28 trees.

Though the Forest Department has been distributing sandalwood saplings at subsidised rates to farmers to promote sandalwood cultivation on private lands, only a few farmers come forward to avail the saplings due to fear of smugglers.

Sandalwood trees grow naturally in areas where rainfall ranges between 750 and 800 mm. A large number of trees are available at Satyamangala forest in Tamil Nadu and forests in Chamarajanagar and Mysuru districts. These trees have a life span of up to 120 years and can retain their fragrance for decades from the age of 30 years. The wood has been highly valued for centuries.
 

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