Andhra Pradesh

Red sanders smugglers now strike the core of Seshachalam forests

Police officials inspecting a high-grade 10-foot-long red sanders log during a seizure near Tirupati.  

Gone are the days when red sanders smuggling operatives, mostly the workforce from the north-western districts of Tamil Nadu, used to fell red sanders trees in the lower and middle canopy zones of the Seshachalam biosphere spread over Chittoor and Kadapa districts, mostly handling moderate to small sized logs.

In the last one year, their strategy turned more audacious, taking them right into the heart of the forests, targeting the upper canopy on the soil-rich slopes. The giant size and arresting quality of the logs seized in recent months has baffled officials of the Andhra Pradesh State Red Sanders Anti-Smuggling Task Force. The trend has started presenting a big picture, projecting high-level damage to the forest wealth. The trespassers’ axes have reached the roots of the red sanders trees, believed to be four to five decades old.

The three-decade-long plundering of red sanders wealth advanced from axing at the perimeter of the Seshachalam ranges to invading the multi-layered terrain and finally entering the core belt. Amid a colossal loss of the forest wealth, running into several thousands of crores, there is no valid information as to how many trees had disappeared over the years. “Quality and quantity matter the most in any contraband trade. It’s true; the core area is still left with an amazing treasure of the red gold. Their protection is now a million dollar issue,” a senior member of the task force said.

It is observed that taking advantage of the lull in the combing activity, both by the task force and the forest squads, owing to COVID-19 and stepped up surveillance at the border check-posts, the smuggling network indiscriminately felled the trees of finest quality, maintaining dumps at the foothills, and waiting for the right time to shift the stocks across the borders to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

In recent months, the Chittoor police raided some of the dumps in these States, and the task force unearthed a huge dump in the hillocks bordering Tamil Nadu.

Divisional Forest Officer (Rajampeta) G. Srinivasulu said the need of the hour was to make combing parties penetrate deep into the forests, instead of patrolling the boundaries. “Several teams have been formed to cover all the red sanders-rich compartments in Rajampeta division with its maximum share of red sanders presence in the Rayalaseema ranges. Our staff is now carrying weapons to effectively arrest the damage to forest wealth. Constant presence of combing parties in deeper areas would slowly and steadily demoralise the smugglers,” the DFO said.

Superintendent of Police (Task Force) Sundar Rao observed that DGP Gautham Sawang had approved additional staff to intensify combing operations not only Seshachalam hills of Chittoor and Kadapa, but also to spread the dragnet in Kurnool, Nellore and Prakasam districts. “Till now, in spite of our constraints of manpower, our forces did the best. We are soon set to push through deeper jungles. We are in touch with the forest department to procure satellite communication equipment to overcome network hurdles,” he said.

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 9:53:47 AM |

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