Smuggling of Red Sanders to China Under Scrutiny

Smuggling of Sander wood or Red Sender, a high density wood; from south India to China through Karbi Anglong district of Assam, since year 2002 raised doubts about the actual application of the material in foreign countries like China.

Consignment of red Sander wood includes packing in covered trucks, armed with all type of documents and neatly forged, that too accompanied by so-called government officials of Forest department of Andhra Pradesh reaches Myanmar through Moreh, the last border town of North East India before being smuggled to China through Kachin valley of Myanmar.

These activities have been taking place at a time when blanket ban on felling and logging of this particular timber imposed by the Supreme Court of India is in force throughout the nation.

Startling revelations have been made by the Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India including other concerned agencies like Bureau of Economic Offences, Government of India, Revenue Intelligence, Government of India in their letters to the Chief Secretary, Government of Assam and the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest.

Red Sanders ( Pterocarpus santalinus) is a rare timber species listed under the CITES originating from Samelashor adjacent to Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

Red Sanders is included in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species (CITES) of Flora and Fauna. It also finds a place in the ‘Negative listed’ species of the EXIM policy of Government of India.

In 2009 Forest officials including Divisional Forest Officer of Karbi Anglong East Division, Jivananda Hazarika, AFS was allegedly mastermind one such nefarious activities which could amount to criminal misconduct for personal pecuniary benefits. The incident start on after a consignment of red sanders was seized by the forest officials of Bokajan range under Karb Anglong East forest division.

Later on examination of entire records as made available in the office of the Conservator of Forest, Karbi Anglong to this Correspondent, the following details were found:

A truck load of Red Sanders consisting of small pieces of timber beads were seized at Khatkhati forest check gate under the Bokajan Police Station by Assam Police and was handed over to the Range Officer of Bokajan Range for appropriate action in the matter by the DFO during the first part of the year.

Subsequently, the timbers which weighed some 16,000 kgs were shown as unclaimed property while the truck was also seized and detained. Without the approval of the Court, the DFO took the initiative to dispose of the seized Red Sanders for reasons best known to him.

As per the records, in the second week of February 2009, short tender notices were shown floated which in fact remained as office record to disguise the secret deal with the persons/smugglers who smuggled the timber from Karnataka state of India and was trying to smuggle to Manipur near Myanmar, with tacit understanding. The DFO also dared to fix a rate of rupees four lakhs fifty thousand for the mentioned commodity as the government approved rate, which however was non-existent as the commodity was listed under the CITES and banned for exportation outside the country. For safe transportation of the banned species, the DFO also had shown sale of four timber loads of Teak.

In the third week of February, the DFO sent proposal to Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council authority for settlement of the timber loads including the Red Sanders for rupees seven lakhs fifty thousand to the second bidder (stated to be the regular bidder) in the name of a Karbi girl, named Sangeeta Teronpi (a student) who happened to be the eldest daughter of one serving Lowe Division Assistant named Rekha Baruah engaged under the establishment of the of DFO (E).

Interestingly, there were murmurs among the forest fraternity of East Division that Baruah was distantly related to the DFO, Hazarika. Records showed that Sangeeta Teronpi, a Karbi girl residing at Diphu had managed to pay the value of the loads for Red Sanders as settled in her name by handing over all the Call Deposits from a Bank of Imphal, the capital city of Manipur. The question arises as to how this young girl could manage for a Call Deposit worth rupees seven lakhs fifty thousand at Imphal instead of Diphu and for what purpose.

In the first week of March -09 entire commodity of Red Sanders were allowed safe transportation by issuing Transit Passes up to Moreh for further transportation to China which was revealed in a letter from the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, Assam to the Conservator of Forest, Karbi Anglong.

The Conservator of Forest, Karbi Anglong had written to the Principal Secretary, Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council on February 17 cautioning him not to settle the load of Red Sanders to the bidder as the commodity was listed under the CITES and banned by the Government of India. Surprisingly, the DFO managed to get the loads settled particularly the Red Sanders lot in the name of Sangeeta Teronpi without appreciating the gravity and importance of the letter of Conservator of Forest Assam, which simply remained as a concocted document in the file of the Conservator of Forest, Karbi Anglong.

An investigation into the matter by the authority concerned could have unveiled the unholy nexus between smugglers and government officials about the otherwise scandalous fraudulent activities relating to disposal of the red sander but nothing in practice took place.

It was also been brought to light by the Conservator of Forest, Karbi Anglong in a letter to the concerned authorities that he could not complete the investigation as had been bestowed upon him personally by the PCCF, Assam, because of total non-cooperation by the then DFO,. Jivananda Hazarika.

The entire episode reveals that some forest officials including the DFO, Hazarika were hand-in-gloves with the dreaded international smugglers for which the premier investigation agencies of the country were spending sleepless nights for probating such threats to the country as the same was believed to be used for production of heavy water in China for use in Nuclear Reactors. It may be mentioned that, alarmed by the increasing incidences of smuggling of the rare Red Sanders wood from the forests of Cuddapah, Kurnool, Ananthapur and Chitoor districts, the state government was set to request the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe the smuggling of the rare wood to other countries. The state government of Andhra Pradesh has recently agreed to request the CBI to probe the smuggling.

After the incident of seizer of the lot in 2009 and subsequent release of the consignment by the authority, numbers of similar lots were seized in lower Assam by both Assam Police and Forest department; also some quantity was seized in Moreh but in spite of all this smuggling continued, bizarrely enough neither any state nor the central government took up the matter seriously where question of national security is involved. The organisational strength of the Red Sander smugglers can be envisaged if a single fact is taken into consideration.

According to records, this specie which is endemic of Karnataka and part of Andhra Pradesh reaches the extreme end of North Eastern part of India by road criss crossing several states of India without any hindrance and ultimately crosses over to Myanmar for south China. A holistic effort by government of India is needed to unearth the extent of the whole matter and steps should be taken before the situation takes a bigger proportion.

Sushanta Roy is a journalist in Assam, India, who photographs and writes about the people, animals and flora of Assam, and the things that affect them.