MoFSC struggling to manage seized sandalwood

Kathmandu, July 9

The Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation is having a hard time managing the stash of red sandalwood, a species of tree listed on CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) as banned for trade and transport, seized and stranded in Nepal for a decade.

At least four or five armed police officers are deployed to protect the seized red sandalwood on the premises of the Department of Forest in Kathmandu.

Hundreds of kilograms of red sandalwood have been confiscated during their illegal trade to China and stored in 15 districts of the country. According to the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation, there is at least 210,000 kg of confiscated red sandalwood in Nepal.

The ministry itself is unclear on the protocol with regard to the seized sandalwood in absence of any legal provision. “We have done nothing about the sandalwood in all these years because there are no provisions regarding CITES banned flora and fauna,” Yajna Nath Dahal, joint spokesperson at ministry, told The Himalayan Times.

A CITES bill has recently been tabled in the Parliament, which aims at giving concerned departments the power to take decisions to auction, dismantle, hand over to a museum, or use for medical purposes CITES listed endangered specimen.

The Department of Forest said that the confiscated red sandalwood have been stored in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Lalitpur, Jhapa, Sindhupalchock, Rasuwa, Nawalparasi, Chitwan, Sarlahi, Rupandehi, Tehrathum, Taplejung, Kapilbastu, Dolakha, and Kavrepalanchowk. The department’s premises has the largest stored stock of red sandalwood of more than 80,000 kg.

Red sandalwood is not indigenous to Nepal. The confiscated stock is speculated to have been brought to the country from India. But lack of proper documents to verify the origin has added complications in the management of the confiscated stock.

“If India agrees to accept that the wood is from there, the department can hand it over to them. But should India ask for documents that verify that the wood is from India, we will have nothing to show and no option but to wait for the CITES bill to pass,” Dr Rajan Pokharel, former director general of the Department of Forest said.

Red sandalwood is seen as a symbol of prosperity and has medicinal value in China. “To own a piece of furniture of red sandalwood is a matter of status among the wealthy in China,” an authority requesting anonymity said, “The falsely placed medicinal and religious value on the wood in China has pushed its demand.”

Red sandalwood is also in use to make musical instruments and luxury furniture. It also yields santaline dye, used as a colouring agent in food and pharmaceutical preparations.