In the wake of the emergence of the morphed video, during the time of 2010, even natural death of a common house fly inside the ashram could be shown as a suicide or murder by the Indian media.
The Indian sandalwood tree (Santalaum album) is perhaps the planet’s most expensive wood, because of its cosmetic and therapeutic value. There is huge international demand for it, with its fragrant heartwood priced at over Rs. 10,000 a kilo. This tree grows very well in South Indian soil, especially in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, and needs very little water.
Fruiting happens throughout the year, and the tiny fruits attract birds like parrots and cuckoos. And while we eventually cut the trees to harvest the wood, during their lifetime they, like any other tree, function as a carbon sink and generate oxygen.
India and Australia are the leading producers of sandalwood in the world. In the 1960s, India produced almost 4,000 MT of sandalwood. This is significant given the international demand was 6,000-7,000 MT per annum. Sandalwood is in high demand in countries like India, China, Japan, Taiwan and the US. But the current production across the world accounts for only one fourth of the global market demand. This has resulted in smuggling and theft of sandalwood by smugglers. Short supply coupled with high demand led to a steep rise in sandalwood prices between 2002 to 2007. Over exploitation has damaged the wood in many countries, resulted in complete ban in many countries.
Today, Australia is the only significant global producer of sandalwood, with 9,000 hactre of plantation and has taken over India.
Growing sandalwood by individuals was banned until 2002. Today, we can grow the trees but it is illegal to cut and harvest the wood, use it or sell it in the open market. Permission is required from the state forest department, which sends its officials to cut the tree and buy the sandalwood.
Such restrictions dissuade most people from growing sandalwood trees. There is also a security threat, as sandalwood trees are scarce and might attract unwanted attention (specially from smugglers).
Because of these restrictions, 90 per cent of our sandalwood trees have been lost and soon, these trees may become endangered while other countries grow and export sandalwood freely.
For conservations and prevention of over exploitation of the tree there are several legislations passed in various parts of the world. Likewise, in Karanataka, Section 87 (1) of the Karnataka Forest Act, 1963 talks about the process of “Licence for possession storage, sale or disintegration of Sandalwood.”
During the wake of the morphed video, it was being projected by the media that the ashram was breaking law by illegally storing sandalwood which is a restricted activity and requires a license. The media reported that sandalwood was seized from the ashram and kept their illegally.
Whereas the reality of the fact was, Sandalwood trees had been naturally growing in and around the ashram for several decades. However, thieves had cut some trees and left them. The incident was informed to the forest department, which ignored it as minor issue.