Thekkupattu sandalwood oil unit still vulnerable

Thekkuppattu (Vellore district) March 29 . Even three weeks after the dacoity at the Tamil Nadu Forest Plantation Corporation's sandalwood oil factory here, the unit is yet to get additional security. About 20 sandalwood oil tins, worth about Rs.84 lakhs, were stolen by a gang on March 7.

In the absence of adequate security, the factory continues to remain a sitting duck. Only a gate has been sealed and new grills have been put up in a couple of windows.

The culprits started cutting the chainlink fence on the rear side of the factory publicly a few days before the crime. When objections were raised, they attacked the factory staff members, seriously injuring two of them.

Moreover, on the day of the incident, the weighbridge gate was not properly bolted amd thus the culprits' mission became easier. Travelling in a mini-lorry, they simply drove into the premises and stocked up the oil cans, said the police.

Interestingly, the gang does not seem to have come specifically targeting the oil stocks. They had come to steal the stock, but when they came to know about the more valuable sandalwood oil they removed it.

What strikes a visitor is the lack of coordination between the two Government agencies— TAFCORN and the police. While TAFCORN authorities blame the local police for not sparing their men for security duty, the police charge that the authorities never convey their requirements properly.

The factory manager and Assistant Conservator of Forests, D. Mani, said there was a proposal to transfer the extracted oil and the sandalwood stock to the godowns in the District Forest Officer's compound at Tiruppattur.

A total of Rs. 83,000 would be spent on improving the security— increasing the height of the entrance gate and putting up two new watch towers on the premises and a compound wall. Additional staff from other TAFCORN units were being brought to the factory for security duty.

A senior officer said the control of the factory should be handed over to the Conservator of Forests, Vellore. The Conservator could mobilise men from other divisions under his control and send them to the factory. At present, the Managing Director operates from the headquarters in Tiruchi.

Another officer, however, said transferring the factory to the department control, would lead to more complications. For example, before selling the material to the buyer, a lot of paperwork would have to be done. This would affect the sale.

It is not oil and wood alone which require protection on the premises, but also the naturally grown sandalwood trees. At present, there are 40 to 50 small sandalwood trees on the seven-acre premises. The time has come for overhauling the security system and improving the safety norms, say the officers.

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