A.D. Rangarajan

Efforts to officially sell red sanders meet with little success

Forest Department faces a peculiar problem of great demand and abundant supplyThere is demand for the wood in Japan, Singapore and Sri LankaLocal labourers, middlemen/agents and big contractors form a three-tier racket The utility of the wood and the target market is not clear

TIRUPATI: Economics says that demand should fall when supply rises. But the Forest Department is faced with a peculiar problem of great demand and abundant supply.

There has been scanty response to attempts to officially dispose of the precious wood even as smuggling is on at a brisk pace and the logs are unofficially crossing the shores. Perplexed officials could construe little from this trend that defies all logic while still making efforts to go to the root of the issue.

Red sanders, an endemic wood available only in the Seshachalam ranges spread over Chittoor and Kadapa districts, has great demand in Japan, Singapore and Sri Lanka for no known reasons.

The three-tier smuggling racket has local labourers, who saw the logs, middlemen/agents, who take the risk in ferrying the logs to Chennai, and big contractors, who deal with customers abroad.

Though the risk involved is so high, middlemen go to any extent to smuggle the wood, given the attractive returns. As on January 31, 2006, 326 cases were pending in court while 131 vehicles were seized from smugglers. That 15 vehicles were seized in the month of January alone would explain the gravity of the situation. And the stock piling up in godowns is surely a mind-boggling figure at 1,882 tonnes.

Though the Government had earlier floated global tenders to sell the stock, the response was discouraging. On the other hand, many continued to flock the illegal channel.

Under a cloud

The very utility of the wood is under a cloud, as according to one version it is used to make a musical instrument, `Shamosin', to be presented as a wedding gift as per a Japanese custom. Another version that it is used as a coolant in nuclear reactors has been brushed aside by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC).

"The real intention of contractors in avoiding the legal route and chasing the smugglers for the wood seems to be to hide their identity and the ultimate destination as well. Once the utility and the target market are known, we can ourselves make some value addition and put it for sale," a senior forest official says.

Contractors procuring the logs officially have also been told as much. In fact, the matter is learnt to have been referred to the CBI to find out the reason for the spurt in smuggling and its real utility.

It has to be seen if the wood is smuggled only for the musical instrument or is there anything beyond what meets the eye.