HYDERABAD: The recent killing of 20 woodcutters from Tamil Nadu in an alleged encounter in the Seshachalam forest at the foot of the Tirumala Hills is being seen as a fallout of Andhra Pradesh government’s decision to directly enter red sanders’ trade to have its share in the precious wood lucrative market.
Ever since the AP government announced that it would be conducting global e-auction of 4,160 tonnes of red sanders logs seized from smugglers in recent years, red sanders smugglers developed cold feet as this would reduce the price of this precious wood in the international market and they would lose dearly.
The conflict between the AP government and the smugglers increased even more after the government set up two squads of special task force with modern weapons and appointed 300 personnel and three IPS officials to curb the smuggling.
Till the other day, the AP government had been selling the seized red sanders logs in the local market, while the smugglers were going to the international market. With such a huge quantity of quality red sanders available at reasonable prices, the demand for the wood has suddenly come down.
“When these smugglers saw that they would lose their business, they started using methods to stall the auction. They even filed a petition in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) asking it to stop the auction. They even published articles in international media to stop the auction,” said a senior forest department official.
The cash-strapped AP government held its first round of global e-auction between October 23-25, 2014, during which around 2,500 tonnes of red sanders was auctioned, which fetched Rs 851 crore for the state government. Another round of e-auction is scheduled to take place on May 2 and 3, for about 3,600 tonnes, which will likely fetch another Rs 1,300 crore.
The state is expecting to mop up close to Rs 6,000 crore through the open auction of red sanders in the global market. AP forest officials said the Chinese mafia is driving red sanders’ smuggling between Tamil Nadu and AP.
“Since 2013, police have arrested 55 Chinese nationals who have been in possession of red sandalwood; this itself shows the involvement of Chinese mafia in this business,” an official said.
According to AP forest department officials, major seizures to the tune of around 30,000 kg have been carried out only in the Delhi and Mumbai airports since 2013. In 2013, the authorities seized 18,000 kg of red sanders in the Delhi airport alone. As many as 85 cases of red sanders’ smuggling were registered in AP alone between 2012 and 2014. Interestingly, the red sanders’ smuggling also has a political angle. According to official sources, a large number of red sanders’ smuggling dons have links with some political parties in AP. These political parties give protection to them and many a time, they call up police stations to get the arrested smugglers out. Similarly, some political parties in Tamil Nadu too receive funding from the red sanders’ mafia.
Bojjala Warns Smugglers
Sending a clear signal that the AP government will not allow felling of red sanders trees in its territories any more, AP forest minister Bojjala Gopalakrishna Reddy once again issued a stern warning to red sanders smugglers that the state government would not leave anybody who resorts to illegal cutting of the trees in its territory. Gopalakrishna Reddy on Sunday said, “The state government will adopt a tough stance against the red sanders’ smugglers. We will not allow any one involved in this illegal activity to go scot free.” He further made it clear that the government would treat even woodcutters, who try to help the smugglers in felling the precious trees, as smugglers only. The minister made an appeal to political parties in Tamil Nadu not to try to derive political mileage from the Seshachalam forest incident.
CPI for Probe by HC Judge
Vijayawada: CPI state executive committee member P Harinadha Reddy demanded that the government institute an inquiry into the incident by Chief Justice of High Court. Speaking at the round table, attended by leaders of 10 Left parties here on Sunday, he said that the encounter was a fake one in which innocent people were done to death in cold blood.
Ready to Submit Report on Encounter to Centre: Rosaiah
Vijayawada: Tamil Nadu Governor K Rosaiah has expressed the hope that dialogue between the officials of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu with regard to the Seshachalam encounter and the developments in its aftermath will be resolved amicably. Rosaiah was participating in the Arya Vysya Yuvajana Sangham annual meeting at Pamarru, about 40 km from here on Sunday. In a brief interaction with mediapersons at Gudivada while returning from the programme, he said higher officials on both sides are in talks and said he is ready to to submit a report to the Union government if he were asked to do so. He was reluctant to speak further, stating that as Governor, he was not supposed to make any political comment on the incident in which 20 people were killed. “It is up to the governments of both the states to sort out the issue in an amicable manner,” he said.