Seized sandalwood headache to authorities

By Purushottam P. Khatri

kathKathmandu, July 29: The government is facing difficulty to manage the red sandalwood seized during the past several years. The Department of Forest and Soil Conservation and over a dozen District Forest Offices have been facing hard time in managing and providing security to the red sandalwood, according to the Department officials. 

Red sandalwoods are species of tree listed on CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) of 1973. The government has imposed a ban on their trade and transport.
Over 63,000.900 kilogram of red sandalwood has been dumped along with impounded trucks and vehicles on the premises of the department, the largest stock among the districts.
At least four or five armed police officers are deployed to guard the seized red sandalwood on the premises of the Department of Forest, according to the officials.
Forest officers of Kathmandu, Rasuwa and Nawalparasi said that about 271 tonnes of red sandalwood is now lying in an almost abandoned state in various district forest offices.
The forest offices have to depute separate manpower and manage separate building for impounded item’s proper and safe management, said Bijaya Raj Subedi, former district officer of Nawalparasi and expert of scientific forest management.
The department itself is unclear about the proper management of the seized red sandalwood as there are no clear provisions regarding the CITES, Subedi said.
Smuggling of red sandalwood had peaked in Nepal in 2006 and but smuggling of the contraband was controlled in 2008.
At present, the smuggling of the wood has not taken place as no record of seizure of the banned wood can be found in police record, according to Nepal Police Spokesperson and DIG Bishwo Raj Pokharel. The smuggling of red sandalwood has become a story of the past now, he said.
The destination of the smuggled wood used to be China and Nepal was used as a transit route to the sandalwood supplied from India.
As a signatory member of the CITES protocol of 1973, the Nepali government considered the red sandalwood as a protected plant and Nepal has the responsibility to stop its illegal smuggling, according to Birat Basta Lamsal, forest officer at CITES section of the Department of Forest. As per the CITES provision, once the red sandalwood seized in Nepal, a signatory member of the CITES, such seized woods must be sent back to the country of origin (India). But the Indian government is not willing to take the smuggled items back, he said.
Red sandalwood is planted and grown only in India. IUCN and CITES have kept this plant in the endangered and protected lists.
According to the Department, it had sent 36,000.63 kilograms of red sandalwood to India (origin place) after a Cabinet meeting held on February 13, 2009 decided to do so.
Subedi said that they were facing problems to manage the seized red sandalwood after many cases were pending in the courts.
Many court cases related to red sandalwood smuggling are pending at various courts of the country. The cases were registered in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Rasuwa, Sindhupalchowk, Rupandehi, Nawalaparasi, Chitwan, Sarlahi, Jhapa, Kavrepalanchowk, Tehrathum, Taplejung, Dolakha, Kapilvastu, Dhading and Bajhang districts. Dr. Ram Prasad Lamsal, Director General at the Department, said that the department was introducing new Forest Regulations replacing the older one of 1995, to ease out the problem of managing red sandalwood and other similar problems.  

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