Red sanders may very soon become extinct. The amount of smuggling of this endangered species, from Mumbai alone, has startled the Customs authorities.
Red sanders is a tree yielding a hard fragrant timber.
This year, Customs has foiled 15 attempts of red sander smuggling where more than 2.4 lakh kg of red sanders, worth over Rs 21 crore, were caught while being smuggled abroad through the Nhava Sheva port.
Customs officials believe the smugglers might have cut at least 1,500 trees. The red sanders come from the border of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka to Mumbai from where it is smuggled to Dubai. From Dubai it is further smuggled to China, Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea.
Chief commissioner of customs, Mumbai Zone-II, KR Bhargava, under whom the Nhava Sheva port falls, accepted that a number of attempts to smuggle red sanders have taken place.
However, he said that the forests from where these trees are cut are at Andhra Pradesh. “It is the forest department and local police who have to see that trees are not cut,” Bhargava said. Bhargava admitted that there is huge loss to the environment because of red sanders smuggling.
Customs authorities have found that the smugglers bring the red sander from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka to Mumbai in trucks. “They conceal the red sanders behind goods which are generally not suspected,” another official said requesting anonymity. He said that the goods used to conceal red sanders include bananas, fresh vegetables, wheat flour, stationary items and aluminium conductors.
To avoid getting checked at the ports, the smugglers show the containers as factory stuffed. This means that the goods (which are used to hide red sander) were placed in containers in the factory premises and under supervision of central excise officials. The smugglers prepare forged documents using fake seals and stamps of excise department, to produce the same at the port.
“As per the process, if a container is factory stuffed, under the supervision of excise officials, then it is not scrutinised by Customs,” the official said.
Therefore, officials find it difficult to catch the smugglers or their men. “Every document, even the identity of people booking the containers for ‘export’ are forged,” the official said.