Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Journalist Sudhakar Reddy’s book “Red Sanders”

A Boo Review by Prof. Madabhushi Sridharacharyulu

 “Blood Sanders, the Great Forest Heist” is neither drama nor novel, but the reality of a serious problem which gives rise to several scams. One should not say that it is written by an author. It’s an investigation by a probing journalist Udumula Sudhakar Reddy.  It’s the dangerous route from Sheshachalam to China through corruption and loose ends of the system that forms the theme of this book. He is regularly following the destruction of red sanders for the last two decades and writing about it.

Red Sanders is also called Rakta Chandanam, Erra chandanam. Sapling takes 60 to 70 years to reach circumference of 70 cm then it is  ripe to become most expensive tree, most sought after by smugglers and neglected by the Government. Around 40 years required for Red Sanders for being harvested. It grows in 5.3 lakh hectares in AP and 1.68 lakh hectares in protected areas.

Red Sanders might disappear

Red sanders wood is cut in such a high quantum that very soon it will disappear in India. It will be an extinct if the smuggling network is not broken by Governments because the politicians, police and smugglers are having unholy links which are very strong. Sudhakar Reddy says for every 2 tonnes of Red Sanders caught eight tonnes would reach China or Japan safely as per the agreement between smugglers and facilitating authorities. Considered Red Gold, this is the enormous wealth of Rayala Seema area, which is considered backward and poor, a few parts of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, but extracted from thick forests to be sold to others through illegal means. Though Veerappan is dead, smuggling is still alive and kicking.

The past two decades, the authorities have seized over 15,000 MT of Red Sanders and arrested over 30,000. It runs to six lakh logs or six lakh Red Sanders trees fell in 20 years.  Seizure will account for only 10 percent, as per a rough estimate. This means 60 lakh trees could have been cut.  AP Forest (Amendment) Act 2016 increased punishment, made it non-bailable and shifted burden of proof to accused.

In foreword, P Raghuveer IFS wrote Dr Jagadish Chandra Bose said, trees have life and if someone cuts a tree, it amounts to murder. Can we continue to tolerate this green murder of colossal proportions or should we come forward and do something about it, so that the pride of the state and country, Red Sanders, thrive under protection? This book does offer some solutions in this direction. Sudhakar’s book will rekindle love for nature and in turn that will help protecting Red Sanders.

Britishers used to harvest the Red Sanders since 1800s to early 1900s through Chennai – Kolkatta Railway and from there they shipped to UK.

Internationally it is recognized as endangered species.  In 1995, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora classified Red Sanders as endangered through its inclusion in Appendix-II. The CITES provides guidelines aimed at the survival of wild animals and plants traded internationally where there is a high chance of overexploitation. After illegal felling threatened its population, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified Red Sanders as endangered species in 1997.

AP police killed 20 woodcutters in 2015

On April 7, 2015, the Andhra Pradesh police killed 20 woodcutters from Tamil Nadu in an encounter in the Seshachalam forest. These killings were allegedly in defence when the woodcutters attacked the policemen.

There are as many as 3,000 Red Sanders farmers in India. They faced deep losses for decades due to the laws that made it impossible to sell their product. Author estimated that Red Sanders logs worth about ₹ 30,000 crore have been smuggled from the Seshachalam forests in Andhra Pradesh over the last 15 years.Here the politics and profitable criminal activities intermingle and become a united and self-reinforcing whole. Politicians extend protection to this illegal and unlawful economy, which, in its turn, becomes the milch cow for gaining political power by funding elections. This indicates that the Red Sanders mafia is one whose roots extend to very remote corners of our society’s socio-political and economic structures.

Red Sanders mafia

The Red Sanders mafia is an ultimate result that has culminated from entrenched political factionalism and corrupt/illegal business practices in the Rayalaseema region. However, the consequences of combining these two factors, i.e., the economic aspects of faction politics, are hardly ever mentioned in the accounts of Rayalaseema political history. The Red Sanders mafia resulted as much from the entrenched culture of violent politics (or factionalism) in the region as from the role of such an economy in shaping those politics.

Those who are accused in and notorious for Red Sanders smuggling were also some of the accused in an attempt to blast the car of Chandrababu Naidu in 2003. One of them is Kollam Gangi Reddy – against whom a total of 28 cases were booked, on the charges of murder, rioting, smuggling, bombing, among others – said that he was just a businessman and that he went to Dubai, Singapore and other countries for business purposes. KGR acquitted in that case.  Earlier he was arrested in Mauritius in 2015. Telugu Desham and YSR’s congress and YSR Congress party at present accuse each other with allegations of proximity and connection with smugglers.

Local politicians bought by smugglers

Former AP Biodiversity Board chairman Dr R. Hampaiah says smugglers buy off local politicians using their wealth. He reveals that a few corrupt forests and police officers involved in the racket are letting the top guns get away with a lot.

Explaining how China overtook Japan in consumption of Red Sanders, author wrote: The Chinese obsession with Red Sanders was about to grow only more formidable as time went on. The Chinese attempted to turn the palaces into museums first. They built the most expensive Red Sanders museum, where replicas of real-life historic landscapes and collected ancient art pieces from Beijing and other parts of China were preserved in elaborate painstakingly-accurate miniature models for future generations. Apart from this, the Chinese believe that Red Sanders extract can be used as an aphrodisiac.However, some scientists at IICT believe the reports claiming the wood’s therapeutic value as an aphrodisiac are just hearsay.

Adopting drones to detect living things

A sub-committee led by Dr V. Ramakanth  adopting the latest technology such as drones to ‘detect living things through the foliage at night and beam back black and white videos’. Referring to legal regime, author said that the Biological Diversity Act (2002) is aimed to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity by regulating access to the country’s biological resources.It proscribed obtaining any biological resource for commercial utilisation or bio-survey or bioutilisation, except after giving prior intimation to the State Biodiversity Board concerned (Section 7). There is also a mandate against applying for intellectual property right without the prior approval of the National Biodiversity Authority (Section 6); and the transgression of this Section – along with Sections 3 and 4 – would lead to imprisonment for up to five years or fine up to ₹ 10 lakh, or both (Section 55).

Author an expert in investigative journalism

The book contains very vital points which were found by the author who is a current investigative journalist associated with Times of India. He worked with several media organizations and contributed in-depth stories on various scandals, out of which his stories on smuggling of Red Sanders enthused him to write this comprehensive book.

Sheshachalam has been recognized as Bio Atmosphere Forest by UNESCO. Red Sanders is spread in 5.2 lakh hectares of Sheshachalam. TTD says it is available in 3 thousand hectares under its jurisdiction. Red Sanders is also spread in Kadapa (57%), Chittoor 21%, Nellore 13%, Prakasham 5%, Kurnool 4%. Because of heavy tree felling and smuggling, the red sanders forest is not at all growing like other forest species.

Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Author is Dean, Professor of law at Mahindra University at Hyderabad and former Central Information Commissioner. He published a number books in English and Telugu.

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