It is shocking that around 30 sandalwood trees have disappeared from the Jnana Bharathi campus of the University of Bangalore in the past two months and the administration’s failure to take preventative measures is appalling given that the smuggling wood in the premises has been going on for decades. It is also a parody of the repeated broad assertions of university officials about tightening security measures, while exposing the risk to students living on campus, especially girls. The densely forested campus was established in 1973 on 1,112 acres of land, with approximately 100 acres encroached upon. Sandalwood has always been in high demand due to the biased policy that prevented its commercial cultivation, as these trees were considered government property even though they were on private land. Although sandalwood was deregulated in 2001, it is mandatory to sell trees only to the government at a fixed price. In addition, private land owners view sandalwood cultivation as a responsibility as they are subject to unnecessary legal harassment if the trees are felled by smugglers. Unless this loophole is corrected, the scourge of sandalwood smuggling will continue.
The Jnana Bharathi campus, which has around 6,000 sandalwood trees, has long been a favorite haunt for smugglers. In 2016, approximately 28 trees were felled and transported off campus. A request from RTI revealed that in 2017, 33 trees were stolen in five days. Whenever such an incident occurs, the university announces enhanced security measures such as the installation of watchtowers with surveillance cameras and increased night patrols, while on one occasion it even has said she had obtained firearms to secure the campus. The flawless regularity with which the trees are smuggled out testifies to the involvement of insiders with the possible connivance of the judicial police. The registrar now says the trees will be repaired with shavings that alert authorities if an attempt is made to cut them down, but given the university’s track record of protecting its forest cover, this could be another eye drop.
To some extent, the university is handicapped because the public uses the campus as a thoroughfare. A few years ago, when public entry was restricted, cases of smuggling and other illegal activities declined. If there is an urgent need to strengthen security and surveillance measures, the rector should once again consider closing the campus to foreigners if he does not receive the necessary support from the local police to protect the university’s assets.
Watch the latest DH videos here: