Alappuzha: Sandalwood tree thefts have become a trend in Kayamkulam. For the last three months, six well-grown sandalwood trees worth lakhs of rupees disappeared from the heart of the town.
In the latest incident, one on the St Antony's Catholic Church campus went missing Saturday.
A couple of months ago, Town Muslim Juma Masjid, Muslim Juma Masjid, Puthantheruvu, and two nearby households reported similar cases. Though they complained to the police, there was no headway in the probe.
Priced over Rs 10,000 a kilo, Indian sandalwood is the most expensive on the planet because of its cosmetic and therapeutic value. It grows very well in southern Indian soil and needs very little water.
Y. Abdul Hakkim of the Puthantheruvu Muslim Juma Masjid said all incidents occurred in the wee hours, especially between 2 and 3 am. The smugglers use soundless tools to cut the tree bundle in gunny sacks.
"We had got CCTV footage and handed to police. But their faces were unclear," he said.
"Trees were aged between 25 to 30 years. The mourners left seeds here on the burial ground as a mark of respect to the departed soul. We suspect a well-organised racket behind these incidents. Locals might be helping them identify the trees," he said.According to the Kerala Forest (Amendment) Bill, 2008, sandalwood tree cutting attracts three to seven years' imprisonment with a fine from Rs 10, 000 to 25, 000.
The state lifted the ban on growing sandalwood in 2002, but it is illegal to cut and sell it in the open market without permission of the forest department.
Station house officer K. Vinod said they had received a complaint from the church and they will initiate steps to protect the trees in town with the help of forest range officer....