Smuggling of Indian Red Sanders to China on The Rise


Red Sanders – Versatile Wood

Smuggling of Indian red sanders to China is emerging as a lucrative business. Grown mostly in the Southern Eastern Ghats (mountain range) of India, Red Sanders, also known as Red Sandalwood, (Pterocarpus Santalinus) has been commanding a premium in China for its rich red color right from the days of the Qing Dynasty.

Zitan, as red sanders is called by the Chinese, is very expensive wood. It is used in manufacturing musical instruments, expensive furniture and cosmetics.

Some experts say that red sanders finds multiple uses these days. One such use is as an excellent absorbent of nuclear radiation. Other uses range from production of aphrodisiacs to astringent tonics to treat chronic dysentery and diabetes.

Smuggling Red Sanders

And customs officials are seeing red over this smuggling of red sanders, which is protected in India under the Wildlife Protection Act. Its export is banned.

Over exploitation besides slow growth have made it one of the endangered species and this factor also has added to its high demand in the smuggling circuit.

In China, Hong Kong and Pacific Rim countries, one ton of red sanders wood fetches up to 100 million Indian Rupees ( One US dollar yields 60 plus rupees at current exchange rate)

Arrest Of Red Sanders Smugglers

The arrest of a Chinese national Yang Pang (37) on the outskirts of Hyderabad in South India early last week has brought the smuggling racket into the public domain once again. Yang is said to be a native of Szechwan province.

Police arrested him when he was striking a deal with a local supplier, a smuggler identified as Srinivas Raju, (40). Chinese currency of 10,000 Yuan, Indian currency of 10,000 Rupees and 30 kilograms of red sanders logs were seized from the duo.

Raju belongs to Kadapa district of Rayalaseema region in Andhra Pradesh, South India, which is home to red sanders. He is said to have been in the red sanders smuggling business for a long while. He reportedly told the Police that he has several clients from China.

For his part, Yang stated that he was in India on his fourth visit on a valid tourist visa and that he was trying to take back home some small quantity of red sanders.

Police consider the arrest of the Chinese youth as a breakthrough, local media reports said, pointing out that the Police have been unsuccessful for the past ten years to track the international patrons of local red sanders smugglers.

Organised Crime Involved

The arrest on April 17 of Soundara Rajan and his gang on the West Bengal-Bhutan border and Chennai helped the Police to unravel the Chinese links. Rajan is Chennai-based but settled in Yangon. Besides China, Myanmar and South East Asian countries are the market for the smuggled red sanders.

China-based organised gangs are suspected to have set up base in Sri Lanka for their operations in South India, according to local reports sourced to investigative agencies. First the contraband is smuggled to Sri Lanka from ports like Kodikarrai in Tamil Nadu. From there it finds its way into the international route.

Gangs And Violence

Smuggling of red sanders has become rampant, particularly in the state of Andhra Pradesh and the local police have set up Special Task Forces to check the crime.

As many as 85 cases of red sanders smuggling have been detected in the state between 2012 and 2014. Last month a confrontation between the police and smugglers resulted in the death of some 20 illegal red sanders woodcutters.

Last year, nine Chinese nationals were detained with over 400 kg of red sanders at the international airport in Ahmedabad. They were charged with attempting to smuggle the consignment out via Singapore.

Four other Chinese nationals were arrested by the Bengaluru police this January for allegedly storing and running a “rare wood” illegal factory. Around six tonnes of red sanders wood was seized from them.

They have been identified as Tan Zi Shui (51), Toi Shoi Yuan (45) Yee Shai (25), and Wei Zhiliang (27)

In 2013, over 18,000 kilograms of red sanders was seized at the Delhi airport. Large seizures have also been reported at Mumbai airport as well indicating an ever-increasing cross border smuggling of this rare wood to China.

Red Sanders – Other Strange Uses

A report in the New Indian Express has put a spin on the red sanders smuggling.

Red Sanders Absorbs Nuclear Radiation?

“Did you know that red sanders or red sandalwood works as an excellent absorbent of nuclear radiation? Found only in Andhra Pradesh in India, this rare wood is in great demand in China for its utility as a nuclear reactor coolant. Or so the smugglers want us to believe,” Richa Sharma reported in the multi-edition English daily, New Indian Express.

TRAFFIC, the international wildlife trade monitoring network, also says that there is a belief that red sanders is used as an absorbent for nuclear radiation.

“There is no scientific evidence to substantiate this but if it is true then it is a real threat and India needs to be more vigilant about red sanders smuggling,” Dr Shekhar Kumar Niraj, head of TRAFFIC India, was quoted as saying.

Red Sanders Aphrodisiacs and Astringents

Some experts aver that red sanders is being used in the production of aphrodisiacs as well as astringent tonics to treat chronic dysentery and diabetes, Bengaluru daily, Deccan Herald reported recently.

Trade Routes Changing

With tightened security at ports in Chennai and Mumbai, the air route is emerging as a new trade way for red sanders smuggling.

“There has been a change in the modus operandi of red sanders smuggling. Earlier, it used to be smuggled in the form of big logs through ports and containers but now it is being carried in small quantities but very frequently in hand baggage,” officials of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) were quoted as saying in the New Indian Express dispatch last year.