<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Pointing to Maharashtra being a major hub for smuggling of endangered red sanders, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) has seized over 12 tons of the red sandalwood worth around Rs 4.87 crore. The raids conducted by the department last week in JNPT, a godown at Kopar Khairane in Navi Mumbai and the air cargo, also saw 101.5 kg of sandalwood worth Rs 8.12 lakh being seized. The DRI has also arrested the alleged mastermind Mohammad Omar.DRI officials said the red sanders were concealed in 26 jumbo bags of iron and bauxite meant for export in Nhava Sheva. Later, a godown located in Kopar Khairane and the air cargo were also raided. While 3,250 kg and 8,720 kg of endangered red sanders was recovered from the godown and port, the raids at the air cargo station saw 204 kg red sanders and 101.5 kg of sandalwood being seized.Experts admit that the deciduous tree is among the most valued and trafficked wildlife commodities with an illicit turnover even outnumbering the trade in tiger body parts.DRI and forest officials say while the domestic consumption of the wood is limited (like making dyes used in Ayurvedic medicines), it has great demand abroad, especially in countries like China, for purposes like use in medicines and aphrodisiacs, oriental musical instruments, idols and wooden artifacts and even furniture.The wood is mostly smuggled in log form to markets like China, and even to countries like UAE, Iran and Iraq. A sofa made from good quality red sanders may cost between Rs 55 lakh and Rs 1 crore in China, with the demand being spurred by rising disposable incomes. A ton of high-quality wood can fetch up to Rs 2 crore in some off-shore markets.Apart from smuggling through ports, where organised cartels even illegally open sealed containers to place logs, red sanders are also smuggled via land routes in the North East and through baggage form at airports.The endangered tree is protected under the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) and its trade is illegal. According to the union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), the Palakonda and Seshachalam hill ranges of Cuddapah-Chittoor districts in Andhra Pradesh are its principal geographical range which extends slightly into the neighbouring Anantapur, Kurnool, Prakasam and Nellore districts in the state. Sporadic wild populations occur in the adjoining districts of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.This illegal felling and over exploitation which usually targets the superious phenotypes hampers the natural regeneration process due to the highly restricted distribution of the species. The export of the wood is prohibited except in special circumstances under the foreign trade policy.Recent raidsDecember 2016 and January 2017: Series of raids by the forest and later, the police unearth almost 14 tons of red sandersOctober 2016: DRI officials seize 17.06 tons of red sanders logs worth Rs 6.82 crore from a consignment declared as sponge iron. The DRI made arrests in Nagpur, Chennai, Raipur and Mumbai.July 2016: DRI seizes 21.3 tons of red sanders worth Rs 8 crore in multiple raids across Mumbai.April 2015: Personnel from the red sanders anti-smuggling task force shoot dead 20 woodcutters from Tamil Nadu who were found felling red sanders at Seshachalam forest in Andhra Pradesh.

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DRI cracks down on red sanders smuggling, suspected mastermind arrested