One of the most sought-after forest item by international smuggling gangs — the red sandalwood — is piling up in state godowns and warehouses across the country with the government at its wits’ end on how to dispose of the growing stock.
“The disposal of the huge stock of seized red sandalwood is a cause of worry. The seized stock take up a lot of godown space and its cost of its maintenance is also very high,” said a classified government note assessed by HT.
Official sources said the seized stock, estimated to be 15,000 tonnes, is valued at R5,000 crore.
“We are spending crores every year on storage,” said directorate of revenue investigation official.
A prohibited item for export, red sanders is a banned item in the list of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
While CITES had approved a one-time disposal of 300 metric tonnes of the seized stock, the environment and forest ministry has not yet given the go-ahead but has asked all states to send their stocks to Andhra Pradesh — the point of origin.
Chief minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy has requested the Centre to allow the export of prized red sanders for which global tenders can be floated.
However, Shekhar Kumar Niraj, head, TRAFFIC India, a wildlife trade monitoring network, says: “Besides appropriate checks and balances, ensuring that the wood is not laundered as legit product for trade is also an issue.”
Distributed across some 4,80,000 hectares, red sanders is the heartwood of Pterocarpus santalinus, a tree endemic to only five southeast Andhra districts and a small area in Tamil Nadu.
While the wood is not known to have much usage in India, it is a rare and valued item for traditional medicines and woodcraft across China, Myanmar, Japan and east Asia where the market price for ‘round logs’ is many times twice the ‘value added’ form.