Truckloads of the fruit are being illegally transported from the Nagarhole, Bandipur and Biligiriranga Tiger Reserve (BTR Hills) reserve forest areas to the neighbouring state.
The racket came to light when a truck carrying several bags of berries toppled in Yalandur area near the Biligiri Ranga hills.
An inquiry revealed tribals in the forest areas harvested gooseberries and sold them to traders for a paltry Rs five a kg. The traders in turn sold them for Rs 40 a kg in Kerala where the demand is high for the fruit with medicinal properties.
Rich in vitamin C, amla is widely used in the alternative systems of medicine such as Ayurveda and Unani.
Besides, the fruit with a sour taste has a prime place in the kitchen, too, for preparing oil, pickle and mouth-watering jams. And among some communities, it has a symbolic significance in religious practices.
The rampant smuggling of gooseberries will have an adverse effect on the fauna in the reserve forest, say forest officials. Deer, monkeys, wild boar and other wild animals and birds survive on gooseberries during food crisis in summer. Deer yearn for berries during summer, their breeding season.
The residents near the reserve forests allege the traders were in cahoots with the forest officials.
The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, Section 35 (6) and (29), prohibits commercial exploitation of the forest produce from the reserve forests.
Only the forest dwellers are entitled to use the forest produce for domestic purposes. They can use the forest produce for commercial purposes only after obtaining permission from the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF).
The PCCF can give his approval only after consulting the National Wildlife Advisory Board. However, the forest officials are yet to wake up to the smuggling of truckloads of the fruit in broad daylight, involving gullible tribals.