Kollam: Kadamanpara Sandal Forest, which is close to the border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu near Thenmala, has been on the radar of thieves and smugglers for a long while. Considering the threat, there is a pressing need to beef up security at this natural sandalwood plantation akin to one in Marayoor.
The 23 square km Kadamanpara sandalwood plantation is located along the Western Ghats. The inter-state border has not been clearly demarcated in this area on the eastern fringes of Kerala's Kollam district. The area lighted up by fire line and the symbols inscribed on the rocks are considered as the border by the two states.
As per the current estimates there are more than 2,700 sandalwood trees on the Kerala side. Many trees have been cut and smuggled out over a period of time.
There are sandalwood trees on the Tamil Nadu side as well. Sandalwood thieves and smugglers are encouraged by the easy, unrestricted access from the Tamil Nadu side.
Earlier sandalwood trees were cut and smuggled out from here during night. It is alleged that the sandalwood theft and smuggling are being carried out with the connivance of some staff of the Tamil Nadu Forest Department.
The forest department of the two states should also hold regular border meetings on the lines of the police department in a bid to curtail illegal entry.
A border meeting at the level of the Divisional Forest Officer and Chief Conservator of Forests besides other forest officials needs to be convened urgently between Kerala and Tamil Nadu to exchange information on the criminal activities in the forest areas, measures to nab the culprits and hand them over to the state authorities for further investigations in such cases.
The local people and forest department staff are annoyed that the ministers concerned don't even bother to visit the sandalwood plantation. They point out that two forest ministers in Kerala hailed from this region in the last decade but none took interest in securing the plantation.
A forest minister should personally intervene in strengthening the security, said local residents in the area falling in the Kollam district.
The sandalwood plantation is spread over areas like Kokattvasal, Chenagiri and Kadmanpara.
As per the rules, 15 employees are required for overseeing the vast area, but only 9 beat forest officers are available and out of that two women have been deployed elsewhere.
The watchmen who are on guard duty have been given three rifles.
The forest guards at the Marayoor sandalwood plantation in Idukki district are being given 10 per cent of their salary as special allowance. But the staff at Kadamanpara sandalwood plantation have been deprived of this allowance.
The demand for equipping watchers with a powerful lighting system for night patrolling and arms and ammunition to take on the sandalwood thieves and smugglers has been pending for long. There is an urgent need for providing security to forest department's property and sandalwood of high commercial value.
Secure camp sheds are required for the watchers which can withstand high velocity winds and heavy rain in the area.
It is also alleged that despite the need for strict 24/7 patrolling in the area, the Kerala Forest Department is not taking the required action.
Earlier, police surveillance was put in place in the area from the Armed Reserve Camp. Later this police vigil was withdrawn.