Vikash Sharma

Its estimated value runs into crores of rupees in the international market, yet several logs of red sandalwood weighing over 6 tons have been left to rot either in custody or in godowns in Balasore district over the past 16 years. Often termed as the ‘diamond of the forest’, these red sandalwood was seized way back in 2007.

The Balasore forest department completed its duty by locking the seized red sandalwood logs in the Santia range 'hazat' and godown. So far, the red sandalwood logs are only being shifted from one place to another.

The local residents have questioned the process by which the valuable timber is being shifted as there is always a risk of theft.

“The red sandalwood is very precious. Around 6 tons of such logs are being shifted through labourers. What if someone replaced red sandalwood with other timber during shifting? Who will be held accountable,” questioned Samir Patra, a local resident.

Flash Back

The red sandalwood was seized by a team of forest officials in 2007 while it was being smuggled in a fashion similar to what many can associate with the recent Allu Arjun-starer movie ‘Pushpa’. Around 6.35 metric tonne of red sandalwood was being smuggled in a truck from Tamil Nadu to West Bengal when it was seized by the forest department in Odisha.

As per sources, the red sandalwood was being smuggled in a clandestine manner by covering the truck with onion packets. On getting inputs, the then official of Jaleswar Forest division and the then Tehsildar intercepted the truck near Laxmannath tollgate and seized 274 logs of red sandalwood from the truck.

Not only the red sandalwood, the seized truck is also on the verge of turning into a heap of scrap.

Pertinent Questions

What has led to the delay in conducting auction of the seized red sandalwood? According to the Forest department officials, whenever red sandalwood is seized, it has to be auctioned. The sole responsibility of inviting global tender rests with the Andhra Pradesh government as per the existing guidelines.

Balasore ACF, Digant Sovan Chand said, “As the cost of the red sandalwood is high in the international market, it has to be auctioned as per the guidelines. We have already written to the PCCF in this regard. But we are yet to receive instructions in this regard.”

Things No Different In Berhampur

When Cyclone Titli ravaged southern Odisha in October 2018, hundreds of red sandalwood trees in Gajapati district were either uprooted or damaged. Nearly 800 metric tonnes of red sandalwood logs were subsequently shifted to the godown of the Odisha Forest Development Corporation (OFDC) at Berhampur. However, the timber worth around Rs 400 crore is also languishing in neglect here as well.

(Reported by Ajit Das and Rashmiranjan Das)