Involvement of gang members of slain sandalwood smuggler Veerappan in illegal red sander smuggling in the state's Seshachalam forest cannot be ruled out, Andhra Pradesh DGP B Prasada Rao said today.
"That talk is there...People who (earlier) worked with Veerappan gang or group are active. Some are active and there is no doubt in this regard. But there are many others who are coming (into AP) and are involved in red sander smuggling as stakes are very high," Prasada Rao told reporters here.
Asked if red sanders smuggling was becoming a big challenge for AP Police in the wake of two forest officials being stoned to death by red sander cutters in Seshachalam forests recently, he said, "I agree with you. It is taking a serious dimension and that's why we have become alert to the situation and want to control it before it aggravates." Efforts are underway to check smuggling of red sanders and nab the kingpins of the smuggling rackets, the DGP said, adding, "We plan to maintain the pressure on the red sander smugglers so it doesn't assume the dimension of a mafia." Of late, red sanders smuggling has taken serious dimension with attack and the killing of two forest officials following which Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy urged the AP Police and Forest department to work in coordination to curb the menace, he said.
Red sandalwood grows mainly in Seshachalam Hill Ranges spread across Kadapa, Chittoor and Kurnool in Rayalaseema region and parts of Nellore district. However, majority of red sander smuggling takes place in Chittoor and Kadapa.
Felling, transportation and sale of red sanders is prohibited in India.
Red sanders, or red sandalwood, has huge demand abroad, especially in China and Japan, and commands good price.
As part of the measures, in each of the seven (affected) forest divisions, one platoon of AP Special Police would accompany the forest officials when they go into the forests for their operations because forest officials are not provided with weapons and are hence vulnerable to attacks, the Andhra DGP said.
"The personnel have been asked to take strict measures when the smugglers resort to violence. And wherever (red sanders) cases are already booked, we will be filing charge sheets to take them towards logical end," he said.
The forest check posts manned by forest guards will be strengthened with deployment of armed contingent from the police department and these measures apart, villagers are also being encouraged on the entry points (of forests) to apprehend the smugglers, the DGP said.
A Special Task Force comprising AP Police and Forest officials has already been constituted in June this year and it has been carrying out daily raids on the hideouts across Kadapa, Chittoor, Nellore and Kurnool districts to check the rampant felling of the red sander trees.
"Effective co-ordination is being maintained with the Forest Department to curb red sanders smuggling. In 2013, 531 cases were registered. 3,249 persons were arrested and 13,958 logs were seized," Prasada Rao said.