MARAYOOR:Sandalwood smugglers are turning forest guards, helping the Forest Department to save the sandalwood forest at Marayoor from the axe of poachers.
“Most of the smugglers who were arrested in the past for sandalwood poaching were from the Vannanthura area. The efforts of the Forest Department over the last three years to lure the tribesmen of Vannanthura, a remote place in the dense forest, to take up the job of forest watchers has started yielding results,” Marayoor Forest Range Officer M G Vinod Kumar told ‘Express’.
“A total of 12 watchers have been helping the Forest Department in keeping a watch on poachers, and raising timely alerts. They are vulnerable to return to poaching, and the Forest Department is constantly monitoring their activities. They are also under the radar of the Vana Samrakshana Samithi (VSS), which has the participation of the tribesmen and a forest official as its secretary,” he said.
“The president of the organisation is from the tribal community. There are also at least three women watchers helping the Forest Department in guarding the forest,” he added.
The watchers have not much to do, except keeping an eye on the poachers, for which they get about 15,000 per month. This is a guaranteed income for them, unlike poaching, which could bring them jail term if caught.
“Anyone interested in taking up the job of forest guard is given immediate employment after a brief enquiry about the antecedence. There are 55 members in the 11 families in the hamlet that is located close to Tamil Nadu. They are often persuaded by smugglers from across the border to help them,” Vinod added.
The government’s offers of micro credit and education assistance have encouraged the people to remain strongly with the Forest Department.
The Vana Samrakshana Samithi is formed as per a proposal laid out by the Central Government in the 1980s.
It started getting acceptance in Kerala in the 2000s. There are 25 Vana Samrakshana Samithi units in Marayoor.