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Fossil smugglers strike

india Updated: Jan 07, 2009 00:07 IST
Salil Mekaad

Dinosaur eggs, bones and marine fossils, dating back to the Cretaceous period — which ended 65 million years ago — are being smuggled out from the Manawar tribal belt, about 140 km from here.

An investigation conducted by Hindustan Times, in collaboration with some amateur explorers, revealed that the smugglers were using some galleries in Pune to secretly reach the global buyer.

Manawar drew international attention after dinosaur eggs and nesting sites were spotted here for the first time in February 2007, by Mangal Panchayatan Parishad an organization of amateur explorers.

Though the eggs were identified as those of dinosaurs’ only in 2007, local tribals had been aware of the ‘round rock like objects’ scattered in the area for many decades. Some even used them as shivlingas, installing them in temples and offering poojas.

The Parishad tried to keep the nesting sites secret till they could be guarded and preserved properly. But as the word spread, the location of the sites became known and a target for smugglers trying to make easy money.

The plant fossils from the same period found in this belt are also much sought after by international buyers.

“There is no relevant section in the Indian penal code to register a case against smugglers of this kind of material,” said Anil Kumar, Inspector General of Police, Indore. “This is a major hurdle in catching them.”

Vishal Verma, a member of the Parishad, said the fossils were procured from local tribesmen for as little as Rs 10 to 500, which “is a huge amount for a poor tribesman.”

A local resident, who is involved in the trade as a middleman, said on condition of anonymity that the fossils procured for Rs 10 to 500 were sold at the international markets at prices ranging from $200 to $8,000 a piece.

He said, “Local residents, especially bus conductors who come into contact with smugglers, help supply the materials to Maharashtra.” He added that it took around 15 days for one truckload of fossils to reach its destination.

The fossilised structures are then scattered on the roadside since only an expert knows the difference between a fossil and an ordinary piece of rock. Then the fossils are loaded onto trucks in the night. Near Dhamnod in Dhar district, another truck picks them up and leaves for Maharashtra.

The middleman, also pointed out at Kalu Noor, another local resident who shifted to Maharashtra after gaining prominence with the smugglers.

He confirmed that there were two galleries only for foreign tourists in an undisclosed location near Pune. One of the galleries was laid out in the basement of a building, where only top international dealers are allowed, he said.