BAJHANG, July 26: It's been seven years since a pile of illegal red sandalwood confiscated from the jungles of Bajhang have been lying idle in the warehouse of the District Forest Office (DFO).
On April 10, 2012, police had seized a huge amount of red sandalwood illegally imported from India as the smugglers were trying to export it to Taklakot of China via Bajhang. Since then, the endangered herb is sheltered in the warehouse of the DFO.
Officials at the District Police Office (DPO) had confiscated 3,680 kgs of red sandalwood from the jungle of Warilkhola of the then Rithapata VDC. Though police arrested 72 people including 71 porters and a security personnel on the charge of smuggling, they have not given proper attention in preserving and managing the sandalwood since then, says civil society leader Dharma Jung Singh. The case is still ongoing against the arrestees, who claim that they were arrested after they refused to give commission to the police.
"I still recall seeing the confiscated woods during the time of arrest but I am unaware of the current state of the sandalwood," Singh said, adding, "Nor have anyone shown interest in finding out whether they are in good condition or have already rotten."
According to him, Inspector Surya Bahadur KC, then police chief of the DPO, Bajhang and Ramesh Bahadur Chand, then chief of DFO had courted controversy for taking away some of the confiscated sandalwood.
Journalist Lalit Singh said that the police had claimed to have confiscated 220 logs of red sandalwood by organizing a press conference at that time. But now, there are only 200 logs remaining, according to the DFO.
"We have a video captured during that time to back our claim," Singh said. As the DFO has the details of the wood, locals, journalists and other stakeholders have demanded the whereabouts of the stored red sandalwood and punishment for the culprits in case of misappropriation.
Nepal Government has listed red sandalwood as a rare herb and has signed an international protocol according to which it is not right to burn or sell it. In fact, the law states that it must be returned back to the country from where it was brought, informed chief of the DFO, Ashok Kumar Shrestha.
"Our office is not safe due to these confiscated goods. Anyone can just break in for the sake of the valuable medicinal herb," said Shrestha.