Global demand stokes illegal rosewood felling

A centuries-old  Indian rosewood which was axed in a private plantation at Karimkannikunnu under Muttil South Village in Wayanad district.     | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The steep demand in the international market for musical instruments and furniture fashioned out of rosewood had stoked the widespread illegal felling of the endangered tropical hardwood tree from revenue land assigned to farmers for cultivation during the 2020-21 period, according to the Forest Department investigators.

Forest Minister A.K. Saseendran told The Hindu that the government gave equal importance to conserving valuable trees and protecting farmers’ interest.

He had asked the forest vigilance to take stock of protected trees on land assigned to farmers. “I expect them to give a set of recommendations on how to monitor the health of the trees and preserve them without hampering the livelihood of farmers,” he said.

The vigilance had opened an inquiry into the lucrative black market for the endangered species. It would audit the State’s “forest wealth” lost to illegal loggers. Investigators said a bulk of the coveted rosewood ended in China. Misdeclaration of cargo at ports facilitated the racket, they said.

Across the State, an “influential criminal mafia” had felled protected trees by misinterpreting an October 2020 revenue order allowing farmers to harvest common hardwood they cultivated on their land.

The detection of the felling of 101 rosewood trees in Muttil South village in Wayanad district was just the tip of the iceberg. A team led by Wayanad DFO, Flying Squad, P. Dhanesh Kumar had seized the entire bulk of the estimated 202 cubic meters of wood stolen from Muttil.

Investigators said one cubic meter of rosewood cost ₹7 lakh in the black market. The price often accrued several-fold when the timber found its way to foreign markets. The mafia had exploited the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to convince financially hard-pressed farmers to sell the rosewood on their plots for a pittance, investigators said.

The Congress and the BJP had accused the government of rescinding the Revenue Department order only in February despite red flags raised by District Collectors and forest officials as early as November last. They alleged the delay had worked to the advantage of the forest mafia.

The Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) is investigating the corruption angle in the case. The Crime Branch is looking at the other aspects of the crime, including the smuggling angle.

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Printable version | Aug 2, 2021 6:00:52 PM |

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