Marayoor: After an extended lull, since 2005, sandalwood smugglers are back in business in Marayoor. Trees worth crores were smuggled from the Karayoor Reservoir in the Kanthalloor range and adjacent private properties during the last couple of weeks.
The Forest Department has found itself in a fix after multiple cases of sandalwood smuggling was reported from the area. A spike in smuggling in the region could affect the tourism sector also as the sandalwood forest of Marayoor is one of the crowd pullers in Munnar package.
Two weeks ago, two mature trees were smuggled from the land owned by George Ouseph of Idakkadavu near the Karayoor Reservoir area. The thieves also left three trees in the property half cut.
In another incident, two fully-grown trees, estimated to be worth Rs 50 lakh in the international market, was axed and stolen from a property located less than 100 meters away from the forest office in Pius Nagar in Kanthalloor.
The police or the forest department have so far drawn a blank in cases relating to the theft of sandalwood trees from the private and revenue land.
Though there was a marked fall in the theft reported from the reserve areas, the latest incidents confirmed that sandalwood smugglers are back at work in Marayoor region.
Even as forest officials claimed that these were isolated incidents, Tamil Nadu police have seized loads of Marayoor sandalwood from Palani and Dindigal and arrested different gangs of smugglers during the past one month.
Stung by a series of incidents of thefts in the Kanthalloor range in a span of three months, the forest department stepped up vigil in the area and arrested eight persons recently.
The officials heaved a sigh of relieve when Anand, a habitual offender hailing from Dandukombu in Idukki, surrendered before them a couple of months back.
A notorious smuggler, he was active in the field for about eleven years, also acting as a middleman connecting inter-state smugglers. Ananad was wanted in about fifty cases.
The police are on the lookout for his right-hand man Sekhar, a native of Peradipallam near Marayoor, against whom arrest warrants are pending. Forest officials suspect his role in the latest spurt in sandalwood smuggling in Marayoor.
Two months ago, Excise officials intercepted a car at the sales tax office-cum-check-post at Bodimettu, bordering Tamil Nadu and questioned the passengers.
Interrogations revealed that the vehicle was owned by a gang headed by Sekhar. They were returning from Theni after handing over stolen sandalwood logs to another racket.
Six vehicles owned by the same gang have so far been confiscated in connection with different cases, officials said.
If the Forest Department fails to act swiftly and step up preventive activities, the region will witness a similar situation which existed before 2005 when sandalwood smuggling was its peak.
“We have intensified the search to nab those who were involved in the crimes,” said Marayoor Divisional Forest Officer Afsal Ahmed.