In a bid to check red sanders smuggling, the Andhra Pradesh forest department is digging a 1,500-km trench around red sandalwood forests in Chittoor and Kadapa districts. The trench will also surround forests in Nellore, Prakasam and Kurnool districts where red sandalwood trees are found in smaller numbers.
The trench, which is three metre wide and equally deep, is part of several measures initiated since June to check smuggling of the valuable wood.
“About 1,100 km of the trench has already been dug. Its depth and width will prevent any vehicle or person from entering illegally. Earlier, smugglers drove trucks right up to the wood-cutting or logs-loading points deep into the forests. The trench will prevent that. Authorised vehicles and persons will enter through manned gated-bridges,’’ S B L Misra, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests said last week.
Other anti-smuggling measures being taken include installing CCTV cameras along vulnerable routes and forest paths.
Joint teams of the anti-red sanders smuggling task force of state police and Strike Force of the forest department have set up base camps in the forests to keep vigil on vulnerable routes.
However, smuggling continues through areas that are yet to be trenched.
Andhra Police said that over 400 red sanders smugglers have been arrested, but smuggling continues, though the scale might have come down. “Second rung smugglers, henchmen, transport operators and aides of top smugglers take their place when they are arrested. But we are tightening our grip. There have been few big seizures in recent weeks, but police and forest department officers continue to intercept vehicles smuggling small number of logs,” Andhra Pradesh DGP J V Ramulu told The Indian Express. He added that they were making every effort to completely stop smuggling operations.
After the Telugu Desam Party came to power last year, CM N Chandrababu Naidu asked police and forest officials to launch a major crackdown on red sanders smuggling. Since June last year, over 400 top smugglers have been arrested besides thousands of woodcutters, drivers, aides and henchmen who are part of the smuggling rings.