The issue of red sandalwood smuggling is a hot topic today. While there are claims and counter claims over the authenticity of the operation in which the Andhra Pradesh police gunned down 20 persons, the other issue is how this racket of red sandalwood smuggling has the involvement of the high and mighty.
The incident in which 20 persons were killed while they allegedly chopping down red sandalwood in the Seshachalam hills of Andhra Pradesh has today turned into an AP vs Tamil Nadu issue.
While the AP government says that it will protect red sandalwood at any cost what the TN government also must understand that it needs to wipe out the market this valuable wood has in its state as well.
The Mohanambal case
The case of Karagattam folk dance Mohanambal was an eye opener. In the year June 2014 she had surrendered before a Vellore court over allegations of red sandalwood peddling.
The 60 year old was charged after the police had found Rs 4.4 crore in cash and 72 sovereigns of gold in her house all alleged to have been obtained through the business of red sandalwood peddling.
It was in this case for the first time that the names of celebrities came to the forefront and this only went on to show that the high and mighty too found red sandalwood a lucrative business in which crores of rupees were in play.
It was the case of the Tamil Nadu police that Mohanambal her sister and her nephew Sarvanan had been indulging in red sandalwood smuggling.
Was Mohanambal a front for the politicians?
The investigations went on to reveal that she was acting as a front for several politicians. A racket of this nature is not possible without political patronage, the police had alleged.
During the investigations the police had alleged that her nephew had contacts in Dubai. Red sandalwood chopped in the AP forests would be transported to Chennai and then routed into Dubai by her nephew the police had alleged.
The money which would come in from the mafia in Dubai was lucrative and she often held that money for various politicians the police had also found.
The super rich agents
Red sandalwood has a great demand in China where it is used both for furniture and also medicinal values. The wood also had a market in Japan and Myanmar. It fetches anything between Rs 10 to Rs 20 lakh a tonne.
Being a red sandalwood smuggling agent as was found in the case of Mohanambal only gave rich dividents. Agents earned anything between Rs 70,000 to Rs 90,000 a week. The wood cutters end up earning Rs 1,000 per day.
What the police had found is that the mafia in Dubai had a major control over the market. This is a mafia that is largely collected by the Chinese and it was alleged that Sarvanan was the man in direct contact with them.
On Mohanambal the police had received a tip off about her activities and decided to raid her house. She would donate excessively to temples and picked up property which did not match her source of income earned through dancing.
The police had also claimed that apart from the vast stash of cash in her house she had also acquired 28 different properties. All this is believed to have been purchased with the money made from red sandalwood peddling.
The political connections
Although the political connections in this case are spoken about in hush-hush tones in Tamil Nadu several officers say that this racket has their blessings. There have been intelligence reports which suggest clearly about politicians being involved in the landing of Chinese arms at the Koddikarrai port from Sri Lanka.
On the AP-Tamil Nadu border these politicians have been seen wielding their whip as they ensure the safe passage of the loot into Tamil Nadu. Several forest officials have been instructed to turn a blind eye when the loot is being transported.
Moreover their influence is also found when the red sandalwood is being transported out of Tamil Nadu into various countries either by boat, ship or air. In the recent days red sandalwood was being carried out in smaller quantities by air and would land in the destination almost unchecked.
Several cases of red sandalwood smuggling by air were reported by the Mumbai and Delhi officials where it was found that the loot was being smuggled out from their airports.
Giving into temptation
The ones who suffer the most as a result of this racket are always the wood cutters. Not only are they under the direct scanner of the law, but in the recent case we also saw how they were in front of the bullet too.
Many of the families do not even know where the men from their house are venturing out to. They are trapped by smugglers and their agents and the wood cutters are easily lured because they are paid Rs 800 to Rs 1000 per day.
The target is always the poorest of the poor and very often agents are scouting around in the drought hit areas of Tamil Nadu.