Customs enforcers say that there seems to be an upsurge in the smuggling of red sanders, a fragrant wood, to China, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong and Myanmar where it is in high demand to make an array of products ranging from musical instruments to furniture and cosmetics.
The enforcers say that Kochi, Mangalore, Mundra in Gujarat and Tuticorin seemed to be the preferred “ports of shipment” for red sander smugglers. They have also shown an increasing preference to consign their shipments to Jebel Ali port in Dubai, indicating that the kingpins of the international racket could be based there. Red sanders shipments are also routed to markets in South Asia via Colombo and the Maldives.
The seizure of 700 kg of the valuable timber at Indira Gandhi International Airport on July 15 had alerted Customs enforcers here of the “high possibility” that smugglers could, sooner or later, exploit airports in South India, chiefly Kerala, to smuggle the restricted item out of the country via air routes to markets in South Asia. Their vigil seems to have paid off on Friday.
Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) officials say that their seizure of 14.5 metric ton (MT) of the red sanders from a container at the Mundra port on October 1 was also indicative of the increase in the smuggling of the restricted item.
Red sanders has little utilization, and hence low market value, in India. However, DRI officials say, its smuggling is also matter of security concern for the country because the tree is endemic to the tropical dry deciduous forests in South East India, particularly left-wing extremism affected areas in Andhra Pradesh and contiguous States.
They suspect that such groups indirectly profit from the illegal felling and smuggling of the trees.
Officials say that red sanders is mostly smuggled out of India in shipment containers “falsely declared” as “plastic bottle flakes” (Chennai port-29 MT), galvanised flex steel tubes (Chennai port-28 MT), polished marble slabs ( Mundra Port-27 MT), mustard oil cake (Kolkata port-19.65 MT), aluminium sulphate (Chennai port-12 MT), metal sheets (Inland Container Depot (ICD), Tughlakabad, New Delhi-10 MT, plastic floor covering (ICD-Lucknow-7000 kg), glass tumblers (Chennai Port-9 MT) and cotton knitted floor mats (Tuticorin-8 MT). Smuggling the wood, in relatively less quantities, through air routes is a recent development.
In 2012-13, the DRI seized 479 MT of red sanders. Its unit in Kerala intercepted a consignment (8 MT) concealed in a consignment of coir pith meant to be shipped to Dubai. The DRI also busted a warehouse in Kannur, where 18,000 kg of the timber was found stocked. The seizure in Kerala was 60 MT this financial year.