Forest personnel can shoot at sight

SALEM July 3. Forest Department personnel are now armed with shoot-at-sight orders to deal firmly with sandalwood smugglers. This has become necessary to check smuggling and also safeguard sandalwood stocks in the depots, according to U. Ravindran, District Forest Officer.

Of the three sandalwood depots in the State, the one in Salem has become important for two reasons: first, it is supposed to be situated in a comparatively safe region, and second, it is located in the heart of the so-called ``sandalwood track.'' Officials say the areas comprising Karur, Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri and the Sheavaroys (Yercaud) are known as sandalwood track.

The Salem depot is stacked with thousands of tonnes of sandalwood worth crores. In periodical auctions being conducted by the Forest Department, a huge amount is being realised for the exchequer. Therefore, the security at the depot has been strengthened and two sniffer dogs have been inducted.

The other two depots are at Sathyamangalam (Erode) and Tirupattur (Vellore district).

Geographically, Sathyamangalam is at a disadvantage, lying close to the forest range, where sandalwood smugglers are said to be stalking. After a huge stock was allegedly gutted in the Tirupattur depot, the Salem depot has become the safe haven for this precious wood.

Therefore, the authorities have realised the need for tightening the security in the Salem depot. It has now almost become a fortress, with a contingent of Forest Department personnel guarding it round-the-clock.

To assist them, a dog squad — Tina, a black Labrador, and Rita, a German Shepherd, has been inducted.

These dogs have been specially trained to sniff sandalwood anywhere, even if it is hidden in boxes or bags. These have been brought from the Chennai Dog Squad Office, along with their trainers.

They would keep a vigil both inside and outside the depot, and if the need arises, would be taken elsewhere to detect hidden logs.

To prevent smuggling activity, the Forest Department has set up checkposts at four places — Ayodhiapattinam, foothills of Yercaud, Edapatti near Belur and Puzhuthikuttai. Also, three special groups have been formed under the Forest Rangers Devaraj, A. Muthukrishnan and Sachidanandam.

The smugglers seem to have changed their strategy.

As they find it difficult to get trucks or cars through the tight security, they engage labourers to carry head loads or squeeze the wood in shoulder bags.

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