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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Seizure of Red Sanders at Nava Sheva - is it ordinary or something alarming !!

The system is iron clad – for moving goods in and out of the country, one needs to have approval – there are various documentation – Customs – physical checks and there are various agencies involved.  BUT this is not fool proof and news items continue to trickle in every now and there. 

Even after his death, the ghost of Veerappan continued to haunt TN, Kerala  & Karnataka.   A notorious dacoit, he could defy the Govts and smuggled tonnes of sandal wood and poached elephants for ivory. Perhaps he is not alone and there are many out to kill the systems and make money by moving goods illegally.   Sandal wood is known for its fragrance – the woods yielded by trees in the genus Santalum are  used for the essential oil they contain.  The heavy yellow coloured wood retains it fragrance for decades.  The distinctive smell can be scented even when it is diluted.  It is regarded as having medical qualities and is religiously considered as sanctifier.  Pterocarpus santalinus, Red Sanders or the Red sandal wood is found in Andhrapradesh in Cudappah and Chittoor and in parts of Tamilnadu.  

Do you know that under the Forest Act cutting sandal tree is illegal.  The recent enactment of   ‘Tamil Nadu Sandalwood Trees Patta Land Rules, 2008’ prescribes  the form and the manner in which sandalwood trees grown on patta lands should be disposed to the government. It also stipulates that 80 per cent of the net sale price should be paid to the owner of the sandalwood tree.   This amendment to an earlier enactment of 1882, permitted growing of sandalwood trees in patta lands but they cannot be cut indiscriminately and sold outside.
The botanical name is “ Pterocarpus santalinus  “ – locally known as Lal chandan, red sandal wood and like is considered to be of high value.  Recently in Ahemdabad, there was a big seizure of 5 tons of logs of the precious wood cut in various sizes and loaded on a small country craft.  The craft on its way to Dubai was intercepted by DRI and Kandla Customs.  The export of this wood is banned but smugglers think ingeniously.  Logs of red sanders had been loaded on to craft at Sikka, then at Tuna dozens of goats were loaded to cover the logs and would have passed off as a consignment of goats to Arabland.  How the logs travelled from the Southern states to Gujarat is not easily comprehensible. 

Now another similar one.    Customs Officials have recently  seized 25 metric tonnes of rare red sanders which was allegedly being smuggled in a yarn consignment to Dubai.  These goods were worth over 2 crore in International market and had been booked in the fake name of a non-existent fabric company.  Who moved the documents and how a consignment load could travel in the security zone is of grave concern.  Newspaper reports state that there all documents required for export including Shipping bill were presented but now it is revealed that the stamp and signature were fake and the officer whose name was on the document never existed.  Thus, a container load of cargo stands seized but no arrests have been made. 

The Chief Commissioner of  Customs is quoted as saying that certain discrepancies in the dates of movement of container from the factory and date of entry into port area surfaced, the trail of which led to the finding.  There have been similar seizures of consignments in the past also which only adds to the concern that perhaps this activity has been going undetected for long and in some big measure.  

In the Nallamala and elsewhere   forests of Andhrapradesh,  the sanders, teak and other trees grow.  Red sandal wood is a light-demanding small tree growing to 8 m tall with a trunk 50–150 cm diameter. It is fast-growing when young, reaching 5 m tall in three years even on degraded soils. It is not frost tolerant, being killed by temperatures of −1 °C. The leaves are alternate, 3–9 cm long, trifoliate with three leaflets. The flowers are produced in short racemes. The fruit is a pod 6–9 cm long containing one or two seeds.

Its wood has historically been valued in China.  Chandan, the Indian word for Red Sandalwood which is Tzu-t’an, are linked by etymology.  The red variety is more costlier than sandal wood and is on the verge of extinction. Officially, its export is banned but it continues to be smuggled out by politically connected  mafia.  For its sheer size and the difficulties in hauling the movement must be difficult but is usually smuggled in stolen trucks and containerised in the guise of other commercial items like salt, rice, mica powder, groundnut kernels, white slabs, teak wood furniture and blended black tea. 

There are reports that China requires elements present in the wood to cool their nuclear reactors and machinery.  This should have rung alarm bells and ensured stricter vigilance across. The reports of seizure are coming out quite frequently.  Cynical thought runs in the mind that perhaps what came out is a tip of the ice berg and quite unfortunately there are people who are prepared to compromise the safety and honour of the Nation in earning some quick buck.

Regards – S. Sampathkumar.


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