Fed up with the growing theft of sandalwood trees, the Kerala Forest Department has evolved a unique plan to protect them: the trees will now get space-tech cover.
After identifying the trees, satellite-aided microchips will be embedded on them. A control room will be set up in a nearby forest office to monitor signals from the microchips. Any suspicious movement will be recorded on the screen provided in the office.
“The Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) in Thiruvananthapuram and the Central government-owned Centre for Development of Advanced Computing have already been approached,” state forest minister K.P. Viswanathan told HT. “The VSSC has informed us that technical clearance for the project has been given.”
There are enough reasons for the Forest Department to press the panic button. Three years ago, its sandal reserves in Marayur forest (Idukki district) had about 62,000 fully grown trees. This year, the number went down to 55,000. Two years ago, seized sandalwood trees worth crores of rupees were stolen from the government-owned sandal depot in Palakkad.
Thanks to the politician-sandalwood mafia nexus most theft cases remain unresolved. Despite stringent measures, pilferage continues unabated.
“If everything goes well, the project will be functional in a couple of months,” said C.V. Ananda Bose, principal secretary, forests. He, however, refused to divulge the budget involved. “After gauging the success of this project, electronic surveillance systems will be provided to all other costly trees,” said Bose. “We will also use the satellite images to detect poppy cultivation inside the deep forests.”