TIRUPATI: Seshachalam forest bleeds red when the honed blade of the woodcutter’s axe chops the precious red sander tree, unmindful of the loss to the nation and the damage to ecology. While red sanders smuggling is endemic on Seshachalam hills, there has been a spurt in felling trees in recent times. There is also a corresponding rise in the quantity of the precious wood seized from smugglers.
Figures show an alarming increase in the illegal activity. Against 18 cases registered in 2000-01 and 21 tonne of red sanders seized under the jurisdiction of Tirupati wild life management circle, the number of cases in 2011-12 is 308 and the red sanders seized was 277 tonne. The forest department, which is accused of only recovering the logs and not apprehending the culprits, has, of late, arrested a number of persons involved in felling the trees and transporting the logs. The bulk of the 825 arrests in 2011-2012 were made since last August. The number of smugglers arrested in 2000-11 was only six.
“In the first week of this month too, we seized precious logs worth several lakhs of rupees and arrested some culprits. But, we are short staffed and have limited powers, while the smugglers are becoming bolder by the day and moving out the precious Red Gold. We have appealed to the government to strengthen the forest department by giving magisterial powers to DFOs, making punishments more stringent and arming forest guards adequately,” said divisional forest officer Chakrapani. Incidentally, Chakrapani took charge in August last, after which most of the arrests were made.
In a changed tactic, smugglers are now engaging outsiders to fell trees and smuggle them out instead of roping in the villagers on the fringes of Seshachalam forest. This is because of increased monitoring by forest sleuths in the villages, with a wider network of informants than before. Smugglers are engaging woodcutters from the border villages of Tamil Nadu, as was evident from the recent arrests.
However, some people from Tirupati and surrounding places are engaged as intermediaries between smugglers and woodcutters. Recently, seven youths from Tirupati and surrounding villages were arrested while moving red sanders in stolen vehicles.
According to sources, the forest department is planning a comprehensive strategy to protect forest wealth, especially red sanders. The high-level meeting scheduled to be held next week is expected to discuss the problem and come up with a lasting solution.
Useful as Control Rods in N-reactors?
The heartwood (core) of red sanders has enormous economic significance as it is highly valued in Japan and other fareastern countries as a cultural symbol. According to forest department sources, the heartwood of red sanders is primarily used in the manufacture of Shamosin and Koto, the traditional musical instruments which are a necessary accompaniment in Japanese traditional wedding. It has high export value.
Red sanders heartwood, chips, butt-end and saw dust have many applications in traditional medicine, art, making of artifacts and agricultural implements and the dyeing industry.
The heartwood is also a collector of cadmium and strontium (radioactive elements) and this is being seen as having applications as control rods and moderators in nuclear reactors. This aspect is being investigated by the forest department in conjunction with Bhaba Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Trombey, and the Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding (IFGTB), Coimbatore.
“Red sanders, often described as Red Gold is the pride of Andhra Pradesh, as it is abundant in Seshachalam forests. It has both ecological and economic significance and it is listed as an endangered species in the Red List of UNESCO,” says DFO Chakrapani.