Did you know that red sanders or red sandalwood works as an excellent absorbent of nuclear radiation? Found only in Andhra Pradesh in India, this rare wood is in great demand in China for its utility as a nuclear reactor coolant. Or so the smugglers want us to believe.
And custom officials here are seeing red over this smuggling of red sanders by the reds. “We never had cases of passengers carrying red sanders in hand baggage but in 2013 we detained 55 Chinese nationals carrying the pricey wood in various forms in their hand baggage at Delhi airport,” said a senior official.
Officials say it is smuggled in large numbers in hand baggage, especially through Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA). Of the 85 red sanders smuggling cases detected in 2013, the last seizure being in November in Mumbai, the highest ever—71—were from the Delhi airport with a record seizure of 18,000 kilograms.
“It’s a rare wood and being endemic to Andhra Pradesh it is sold at exorbitant prices in international market. There has been a surge in its demand as 75 cases of smuggling at exit points were reported in 2012 against 24 in 2011,” the official added. Red sanders costs around Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 per kilogram.
With tightened security at ports in Chennai and Mumbai, the air route is emerging as a new trade way for red sanders smuggling. Red sanders is protected under the Wildlife Protection Act and its export is banned by India.
TRAFFIC, the international wildlife trade monitoring network, says there is a belief that red sanders is used as an absorbent for nuclear radiation.
“There is no scientific evidence to substantiate this but if it is true then it is a real threat and India needs to be more vigilant about red sanders smuggling,” said Dr Shekhar Kumar Niraj, head of TRAFFIC India.
The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) for the first time has also recorded divergence in the destination of red sanders smuggling from the traditional Chinese and Japanese markets to the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal. According to the WCCB, 85 cases of red sanders smuggling were detected at exit points including ports, foreign post offices and international airports across the country in 2013.
The total seizure was 44,000 kilograms, the highest ever. “There has been a change in the modus operandi of red sanders smuggling. Earlier, it used to be smuggled in the form of big logs through ports and containers but now it is being carried in small quantities but very frequently in the hand baggage,” the official said.
The favourite destination continues to remain China, US and Japan, but there is an emerging market in the Middle East countries. “Another trend we have noticed is among the people detained with red sanders.
They don’t stay for long in India and most of them arrive in the evening and leave the next morning with the consignment but they make frequent trips,” the official said.