Vellore turns transit point for smugglers
The arrest of 160 smugglers, all hailing from Vellore and Tiruvannamalai districts, by the Tirupati Wildlife officials at Ithepalle in Andhra Pradesh and the seizure of 826 kg of red sanders here by Tamil Nadu Forest officials have exposed an organised large-scale smuggling racket.
Officials attached to the Vellore Forest Division said that the tribals, particularly from Jawadhu Hills, were roped in by the associates of the once notorious sandalwood smugglers to raid the neighbouring state’s forests to make a fast buck.
Acting on a tip-off that a plan has been hatched to fell red sanders trees, the Tirupati Wildlife officials arrested the low-rung smugglers and also seized two TN government buses, a mini bus and two other vehicles, in which they were travelling with machineries on Saturday.
“When all the vehicles reached near Ithepalle bypass road, we intercepted the vehicles and arrested all the smugglers. They were shifted to the forest office in Tirupati. There were about 15 innocent passengers who were freed after questioning,” said Tirupati wildlife zone DFO T Chakrapani during a media briefing.
The smugglers were mostly labourers from villages in Tamil Nadu along the Seshachalam forests. They were lured by the smugglers to fell red sanders trees and earn Rs 250 to Rs 300 per kg, he added.
The forest officials registered case against the arrested persons under section 56 of Forest Act, the DFO said and added that they would book cases under IPC 398 (attempt to commit offense).
Sources in the forest department in Vellore said that since the beginning of this year, the department has seized over 10 metric tonnes of red sanders in Vellore, Gudiyattam and Arcot in Vellore Forest Division.
All the seized logs were smuggled out of forest areas in Andhra Pradesh.
“The kingpins are all based in Chennai, Vellore, Tiruvannamalai and Villupuram in TN and Bangalore, Karnataka. They have revived their old alliance with the tribals to smuggle out the precious woods,” said a senior forest official in Vellore Forest Division.
The arrest of Siva alias Sivakumar (38) of Muthanur village in Yelagiri Hills on Sunday morning with 826 kg of red sanders in Vellore disclosed that a group of 50 to 60 tribals from in and around Yelagiri and Javadhu Hills have been engaged to cut down the red sanders into transportable sizes.
“They were paid Rs 250 to Rs 300 for cutting a kg of red sanders in transportable size. Siva is one among the tribals engaged by the smugglers,” said Assistant Conservator of Forest Vellore Forest Division K P Panneerselvam.
He said that the forest department officials have got vital clues about the kingpins of the organised smuggling of red sanders and they have formed special probe teams to track them down.
(With inputs from Tirupati bureau)