During combing operation, task force personnel notice traces of smugglers’ movement
After a lull of about six months, influx of the red sanders smuggling operatives from the north-western districts of Tamil Nadu into the Seshachalam hills spread over Chittoor and Kadapa districts has resumed. The area with cascading streams and rivulets coupled with dense undergrowth provides the trespassers the much-needed support to hoodwink the combing task force teams and to camp for a fortnight and beyond on the banks of scenic streams.
The smuggling activity in the Seshachalam hills came to a halt on March 24 when lockdown was clamped in the wake of the outbreak of COVID-19. Three months later, the bustle of woodcutters resumed, but on a negligible scale following curbs at the border check-posts. With complete lifting of the restrictions on the transport across the borders, the movement of woodcutters has slowly returned to its visible levels since a week.
According to the officials of the Red Sanders Task Force, the number of operatives present in the Talakona range alone since a couple of days is over 40, apart from other batches on their errands at Chamla and Balapalle ranges. During the fresh combing operations, the task force personnel have come across several halting points of the operatives, where the latter found enough time to cook meal and enjoy booze as well. In the previous years, the operatives had to go several kms in search of water, but now they could find it in just a few meters from wherever they halt.
The copious rains in the biosphere from June till now led to cascading waterfalls and streams between Talakona to Rajampeta range.
Now that the operatives are exploiting the benefits of rains and undergrowth, the task force personnel observe that the scenario has made their task very tough. As most rivulets and streams are brimming with rainwater, the chances of detecting the footprints of the smuggling operatives turn bleak.
It is observed that during hot summer months, the forest paths would be clear and the sounds of axing the trees and clatter of cooking utensils and murmurs of the operatives could be detected with some degree of accuracy.
A combing expert and Inspector of the Red Sanders Task Force, M. Vasu, speaking to The Hindu confirmed that the rains and density of green cover in recent months turned a boon for the smuggling operatives. He said that fresh batches are now hitting their old trails through Bhimavaram and Chamla valleys, Kalyani dam and Talakona range, trekking over 40 km towards red sanders rich beats on the borders with Kadapa.
“After a lull in combing activity, we too find our paths completely covered with undergrowth, making our advancement difficult. The sighting of wild animals, mostly bears, wild elephants and reptiles, is another cause for concern,” said the task force official.