The Kerala Forest Department is groping in the dark about how to protect its sandalwood wealth. Kerala’s sandalwood resources are concentrated in the forests of Marayur. The smugglers are always around as sandalwood fetches pretty good sums in the black market.
An idea struck the previous United Democratic Front (UDF) that sandalwood smugglers could be kept at bay by building a fence around the forests. The UDF Government awarded the contracts and kilometers of fence were completed during the LDF (Left Democratic Front) regime.
Detractors say that all this work was undertaken for the commissions in the contract. For the smugglers were even capable of using gas cutters to steal sandalwood. They proved right as the fence could so far snare only a few deers.
Meanwhile, the smugglers dared to attack the forest officials themselves. The officials want to quit Marayur as early as possible. The climate and conditions in the forests are not good, they say. But the question arises, why they became foresters and watchers if they could not bear the conditions in the forests.
They are not seeking transfer out of Marayur not without suggesting some solutions. Cut down all the mature sandalwood in the forests. Then the smugglers as well as the forest staff will not have any reason to be in Marayur. The younger trees have little value in the market and no one would want to take the trouble of cutting them.
The Department has already abandoned its plans for a sandalwood factory at Marayur for processing the wood. Though the Government had announced it in the budget, the proposal did not find favour with the Cabinet. What would the private sandalwood factory owners do if the Government takes over the business? They had fled to Andhra Pradesh after the Government banned their operations in the State. If it now cuts the supplies also, that would be going too far. The sandalwood mafia has friends in the LDF too.