Amended Forest Act in AP to battle red sander smugglers with iron fists

Image Courtesy: newindianexpress

At last, the Andhra Pradesh (AP) government has amended its Forest Act to safeguard its precious flora and fauna in jungles. The President has given his assent to the amended act and soon it is going to be implemented. It is expected to prevent the unabated smuggling of sandalwood from the forests in Kadapa and Chittoor districts.

The state government has been alarmed with continued smuggling of red sanders from forests like Sheshachalam near Tirupati. Last Monday itself, police arrested two sandalwood cutters at well-guarded SV Park in Tirupati and seized 25 logs of red-sandalwood from them.

Under the amended Act, soon to be implemented in AP, whoever cuts a tree in forests will get a five-year in jail, instead of the six-month term of imprisonment under outdated present law. Not only the wood cutting labourers, but also the key culprits or the sandalwood smugglers behind the offence will have to face stringent punishment under amended act.

Presently, under the Andhra Pradesh Forest Act, 1967, the culprits go scot-free on bail. Now the crime has been made a non-bailable offence with the amendment to the act.

It is reported that sandalwood smugglers like Gangi Reddy have looted the fragrant and costly wood from the state’s reserve forests, especially Sheshachalam forest, near Tirupati of Chittoor district and several other forest areas of Kadapa district.

Despite several cases registered against wood-cutting labourers and their perpetrating smugglers, looting of sandalwood from the forests has been unhindered as the offenders are not scared of the lesser punishment under the outdated Forest Act. Squarely guarded forests in the state were being looted of its numerous tons of red sanders.

The state has not amended the Forest Act since 1967. Under the Act, the Forest Department officials have no right to register cases against smugglers and poachers. The poachers and smugglers caught by Forest conservators are handed over to the State police under the present low. However, this will be changed soon when the new act comes into being.

The state government made amendment to the Act in April last year and sent it for President’s approval. As per the new amendments to the Act, cases will be registered not only against the onsite offenders-wood cutters, but also their perpetrators-sandalwood smugglers who provide logistical and financial help to smuggle them out of the State borders. And, under the newly amended Act, looting of forest wealth is a non-bailable crime. Once the crime is proved in the court of law, properties of the convicted will be attached, says the amended Act.

In addition to five-year term jail, a fine of up-to Rs 50,000 will also be imposed on the offenders. The newly amended act has given powers to conservators of the Forest Department to directly register cases against the offenders.

In April, 2015, prior to the amendment, the State had had discussed the matter of safeguarding its forest wealth with the central government, in the wake of several smuggling incidents of red sanders by notorious smugglers like Gangi Reddy.

Now it is hoped that with the amended Act, looting of red sanders from the State forests could be effectively curbed. Since June 2014, the State has registered about 3,000 cases against offenders, who are said to be involved in cutting of red sanders and smuggling them to overseas. The pathetic situation is that so far only one case among the 3,000 cases have been convicted. This state affairs are being attributed to the prevailing forest law which is not stringent.

On its part, the State police has strengthened its security in forest areas. Base camps of police personnel have been stationed at vantage points of the forest areas. For this, the state has released about Rs 1.32 crore. AP police are also working with their counterparts in Tamil Nadu to wipe out the menace of red sander smugglers.

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