The State government is establishing a sandalwood oil factory at Marayoor, the heartland of naturally growing sandalwood forests in Idukki district of Kerala. Minister for Forests, Binoy Viswam told press persons here on Friday that the Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, will lay the foundation stone for the factory on Sunday.
The factory coming up at a cost of Rs. 1.54 crore will be under the management of the Kerala Forest Development Corporation (KFDC). One acre of land has been leased out to the KFDC by the Forest Department for the purpose. The minister said that on being commissioned, the factory at Marayoor will be the only sandalwood oil extracting unit in the State.
The Forest Department will sell sandalwood to the KFDC as raw material for the factory at the rate of Rs. 3024 per kilogram as per an agreement already reached. It is expected that the sandalwood oil produced by the factory hit the markets within a year. The factory will produce 400 kilograms of oil in the first year, increase production to 480 kilograms in the second year, to 500 kilograms in the third year and reach its full capacity of 640 kilo grams in the fourth year.
On reaching full capacity the factory will require 20 tonnes of sandalwood each year. Initially the sandalwood seized by the forest and police departments and the dead and wind fallen tress of forest areas will be supplied as raw material. The government already has enough stock of such sandalwood to meet the factory’s requirements for a good number of years.
Later requirement of raw material for the factory can come through the promotion of sandalwood tree cultivation which has already begun. At that stage amendments to the sandalwood protection laws may be required. But then it is too early to delve into those aspects now, the minister said.
He said that the sandalwood factory at Marayoor in the public sector will be a major step towards eliminating the sandalwood mafia from the area. The best form of protection has been provided to the sandalwood forests of Marayoor by the government during the past four years.
Four years ago the condition at Marayoor was such that an average of 8.42 sandalwood trees were axed and stolen by the mafia each day. This poaching has now fallen to 0.14 trees per day. But the government will be satisfied only if poaching of the trees ends completely.
Very soon a dog squad will be raised at Marayoor to complement the efforts of the Forest Department in protecting the sandalwood forests.
Mr. Viswam said that already the Forest Department is engaged in round-the-clock vigil at Marayoor and information on the status of the sandalwood forests there is being provided to him on a day to day basis.
The Commission to modernize the Forest Department headed by T.M. Manoharan, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests will be submitting its report in three months time. Based on the report measures will be taken to modernize the department. The minister said that creating an exclusive cadre of Forest Department veterinarians will be seriously considered. Right now the department has only a few veterinarians taken on deputation from the Animal Husbandry Department. He also said that the social forestry initiative has become a major success in the State.