On the intervening night of Tuesday-Wednesday, unidentified persons gained entry into the guarded VOC Park in the heart of the city, felled two sandalwood trees and smuggled one. The incident came to light on Wednesday much to the shock of the city’s residents and environmentalists, who see this only as the latest in the series of sandalwood smuggling that has been going on for quite sometime.
The first tree was 15 years old and the second 10. One was on the north-western corner of the park, abutting the Corporation Zoo compound and another a little farther towards the east. When the smugglers were busy cutting the trees, the watchmen, hired on contract by the Coimbatore Corporation, were on duty protecting the park. And, so were the security personnel in the zoo.
The Corporation-run establishments like the Bharathi Park and the old South Zone office, which is now the Central Zone office, have suffered such loss of timber in the past as well. After such incidents, the right noises were made, cases filed and nothing much happened until the next incident happened.
Similar incidents have been reported in official residences of government officers and public places within the city as well.
Sources in the Coimbatore Corporation said that the civic body did not have a list of timber trees, leave alone trees in the city. Or, worse, it does not even have a count of trees within its establishments like the VOC Park or Gandhi Park.
Oli and students from the Forest College and Research Institute carried out a tree census sometime last year and recoded the presence of more than 4,000 trees in just four wards of the Corporation.
Oli’s founder R. Karpagam said that it was a small effort on the part of the voluntary organisation. But it was the Corporation’s duty to do a tree census and also protect the trees.
After the latest theft, the Corporation has decided to lodge a complaint with the Coimbatore City Police and the Coimbatore Forest Division.
The police said that as of Wednesday evening, they had not received a complaint in this regard. Both the sandalwood trees that were felled in VOC Park were recovered on Wednesday.
Corporation Commissioner G. Latha said that one of the two felled trees was found hidden in the zoo, which the Corporation had recovered. The hiding of the felled tree suggested strongly the possibility of an insider involvement. But, the Corporation could not come to a conclusion at this stage because the investigation was yet to begin.
The Corporation would begin tree census within the next two days. It would also erect giant tree guard-like structures around the timber trees so as to dissuade the smugglers from cutting the trunk.
The Coimbatore City Police sources said that on complaints of tree felling and smuggling, they registered cases under Section 379 (punishment for theft) of the Indian Penal Code and then transferred them to the Forest Department. Forest Department sources said that felling of health and green sandalwood trees was prohibited.They could be cut only if affected by pests and that too only with the Department’s permission.
Felling of sandalwood trees without permission, even those located on private properties, was prohibited.
They also said that on an average 10 cases of illegal tree felling were registered in Coimbatore in a year.