Kerala plans to insert chips in sandalwood trees

K B Ganesh Kumar informed the state assembly that plans are being worked out to insert microchips in sandalwood trees at Marayur.

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Forest Minister K B Ganesh Kumar on Tuesday informed the state assembly that plans are being worked out to insert microchips in sandalwood trees at Marayur, the only place in Kerala that has natural sandalwood forests.

"Currently, we have to deploy 68 forest guards every night to see that these precious and invaluable sandalwood trees are protected. We have commenced talks with KELTRON to see if this is feasible," said Kumar, the film actor-turned-politician known for thinking out of the box.

Located 42 km north of Munnar through the Udumalppetta route, the 93 sq km Marayur reserve forest is believed to have about 60,000 naturally grown sandalwood trees, of which nearly 2,000 trees have been allegedly plundered in just one year since January 2004, when the last survey was conducted.

Speaking to agencies, R R R Varma, principal chief conservator of forests, said that the government has already commenced talks with the state-owned KELTRON company which is into electronics.

"It`s true that chips have been inserted in animals to track the movements but one has to find out if this new idea of inserting chips in sandalwood trees is feasible. What we wish is that, if there is an unusual movement of these precious trees, an alert should come to the control station and soon security would reach the particular tree," said Varma.

In the past few years, the number of cases of precious sandalwood trees having been illegally felled has increased because of the handsome price that these exquisite sandalwood trees fetch.

"The base price of a kilogram of Marayur sandal fetches Rs.1,100 and there is no felling of trees, instead when the tree reaches the natural end of its lifespan, it falls on its own and is auctioned," added Varma.

Normally, the thieves who do the illegal felling arrive with state of the art mechanical saws and a tree is felled in no time.

Then, it is sawed into smaller pieces and transported in luxury cars to the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka where there are ready buyers.

Sandalwood or Santalum album is a parasitic tree having a fragrant and close-grained yellowish heartwood. Sandalwood oil, also known as `liquid gold`, is extracted from the roots and wood of sandalwood.