TIRUPATI: The Andhra Pradesh government is yet to take a decision on having its departments use the vehicles that it seized during raids on illegally transported red sanders logs. There could be about 9,000 such vehicles which have been dumped in six districts, where such smuggling has been rampant. According to T.V. Subbareddy, deputy conservator of Forests, Tirupati Wildlife Division, about 1,355 vehicles were seized between 2010 and August 2016, these being cars, SUVs, luxury sedans, containers, lorries and two-wheelers. Also, around 3,000 metric tonnes of logs were seized in the division, around 2,160 cases were registered and 5,405 persons arrested. The vehicles were then dumped in several open places which come under the jurisdiction of the Chittoor, Kadapa, Kurn-ool, Nellore and Prakasam district forest divisions.
The forest department made a proposal long ago to the government for taking over these seized vehicles and sanctioning them for use by government departments without any legal impediments. Several meetings were held in this regard, but the transport department is reluctant about using the vehicles as many of them bore bogus registration numbers, with the smugglers having tampered with the engine and chassis numbers too. It is now becoming a major task for the forest department to safeguard these vehicles, and they are rapidly turning into scrap. A forest officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the government should immediately take a decision to auction the seized vehicles or permit the forest and other departments to use them.
The total geographical area of Seshachalam Biosphere Reserve is 4,755 km, and it is spread over two districts, viz., Chitt-oor and Kadapa, which possess red sanders trees over a large area. Illegal transportation of red sanders logs was taking place here since several years. Meanwhile, the cash-starved Andhra Pradesh government, which is eyeing revenue from the auction of seized red sanders wood, stored in various godowns, is finding that bidders are not coming forward as they find the prices quoted were very high even as the international market for red sanders is in decline.
According to forest department sources, the state has over 9,000 metric tonnes of wood that has been seized from smugglers since 2002. Red sanders is in huge demand in countries such as China and Japan, where is it used for making medicines, furniture, musical instruments and sculpture. A tonne of red sanders costs more than `25 lakh in the international market. The director general of foreign trade (DGFT) had earlier issued a notification, permitting the government to export 8,584 tonnes of red sanders wood in log form out of the confiscated/seized stock available with the state government.
According to sources, the forest department has taken on hire godowns of about 15,000 metric tonne capacity from the Central Warehousing Corporation at Renigunta near Tirupati to stock the wood. Hundreds of tonnes of precious wood, which were also seized from smugglers, has been stocked in various forest offices in Chittoor and Kadapa districts. Persistent combing activities are being carried out in the Seshachalam forest area. The forest department and task force teams have stepped up deterrent measures. For example, it has taken up digging a 1,500-km trench around red sanders forests in Chittoor and Kadapa districts.
It has installed CCTV cameras along vulnerable routes and forest paths and joint teams of the anti-red sanders smuggling task force of the state police and the strike force of the forest department have set up base camps in the forests to keep a vigil on vulnerable routes. They also recently carried out a trial run of drone surveillance cameras in the forest and plan to introduce it soon to check smuggling activities, said a forest officer.
“Smugglers, especially from Tamil Nadu, are choosing different ways to enter the forests and they even disguise themselves as devotees visiting Tirumala,” he said. They were also using several unidentified routes to gain entry. Whatever be the measures to keep them out, the precious wood continues to be felled and seized and arrests too continue.