Foresters draw up plan to check red sanders mafia

A.D. Rangarajan

TIRUPATI: The Forest Department is planning to change its strategy in order to deal firmly with the smuggling mafia that has re-focussed its eyes on the red sanders, an endemic redwood available in Seshachalam ranges.

The change in the smugglers' modus operandi has come as a rude shock to the department, which has, however, promptly woken up to the situation. In the three-tier racket, Chennai-based masterminds work in coordination with local agents/financiers, who, in turn, get the job executed through hired labourers. A posse of 75-100 axe-wielding labourers venture into the deep forest, complete the task in mere 24-36 hours and ferry away the booty, before the rangers could scent the operation. Earlier, a handful of labourers used to do it for a week or a fortnight.

Following the Planning Commission's observation on the need for protection of red sanders, considered a national heritage, the department had written to the Government to sanction more funds. The plan is to map the entire forest area in order to facilitate a census of the trees, put striking forces in place, set up camping sites in vulnerable locations, increase vigil at check-posts, enhance communication facilities, strengthen road network and improve natural regeneration. Formation of teams, comprising forest staff, ex-servicemen and local helpers in every beat, is also being considered.

After a meeting with the Tirupati Conservator, M. Bulliah, and his team of officials here on Thursday, the Chief Conservator of Forest (Vigilance), B. Somasekhara Reddy, spoke to The Hindu on the counter-strategy.

According to him, the mafia's renewed modus operandi indeed needed stepped up vigilance and improved camp infrastructure in the deep woods. The above project -- costing Rs.34.5 crores -- would be implemented in five years, he said, adding that up to Rs.40 lakhs would be allocated to Tirupati where 10 camping sites would be set up initially.

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