Andhra govt plans to hold global auction of red sandalwood stocks
Anindita chowdhury
[email protected]
Hyderabad, 6 January
In a bid to cut down on the smuggling of red sanders, in which erstwhile gang members of the slain sandalwood smuggler, Veerapan, are said to be active, the state government is preparing to auction more than 8,500 MT of the wood seized during various raids.
This has already generated interest in the international market with the forest department being flooded by offers to buy the entire lot for about Rs 12 lakh per MT.
In the past five-six years, smuggling of the endangered red sanders, which is among the costliest woods, has become rampant and the forest department lost five of its personnel in the past 10 years while trying to thwart the smugglers. Recently, two of its personnel were stoned to death by the desperate smugglers from Tamil Nadu. The state government, which had asked forest personnel to surrender arms in 1993, revised its order and is now training the forest guards to use firearms. Orders have also been placed to procure firearms.
Most of the smugglers hail from areas like Vellore and Salem. They cross the Tamil Nadu-Andhra Pradesh border in groups. They trek to the forest-covered hillocks where they cut down the red sandalwood tree, dress it and cut them into logs and again return home after three days. A kg of red sanders fetches Rs 600 and a smuggler can earn upto Rs 18,000 at one go. “If they die the higher-ups straight away pay Rs 5 lakh compensation to the family while in the government set-up, we are yet to pay compensation to the family of our guard who got killed a few months back. No wonder it is an organised network,” said Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, BSS Reddy.
In a bid to restore some balance in the demand-supply chain in the international market, the government will hold a global auction for nearly 8,584 metric ton of red sanders in two phases. It has to auction the huge haul lying with the forest department by 2015, the deadline set by the Convention of International Trade In Endangered Species in Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). “Already, there is quite a bit of resistance from the smuggler lobby against this move because it will reduce their market. But there have been quite a few inquiries from Russia and China about the auction. We are now finalising the technical committee for the tender,” added Mr Reddy. 
Red sandalwood, which has varied use in China, Japan and European countries for its medicinal values and as a dye in food processing industry, grows in the wild, primarily restricted to Chittor, Kadapa and parts of Nellore. The wood is used by the Japanese to make a traditional musical instrument, Shamisen. The trees take some 30 to 40 years to grow,  and attempts to grow them outside the natural zone  have not really taken off.      
Red sanders seized: The Air Intelligence Unit of the Customs department today arrested two Indian nationals at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata, for trying to smuggle out 53 kg of red sanders wood to Hong Kong. The duo ~ Sarfaaz Nawaz and Istiaque Ahmed ~ were scheduled to fly to Hong Kong by Dragonair flight KA-169. On examining their luggage, AIU officials found 53 kg of red sanders wood, which was later confiscated.