Jeypore: A well-oiled nexus of tamarind smugglers and government officials in Koraput district has emerged with reports of quality tamarind being smuggled into neighbouring states of Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in thousands of kilos, where it is then sold for high prices.
Poverty-riddled tamarind growing tribals are unsuspecting victims of this smuggling racket, according to sources.
Officials in the district administration are blind to the racket, and wriggle their way out of accountability by claiming that it is the duty of the panchayats to inspect the collection of the tamarind, which is classified as minor forest produce (MFP). Sources allege there is a nexus between officials and the tamarind smugglers, which is helping the racket flourish.
Jeypore sub-division is considered to be a tamarind hub of Koraput district. There are tamarind trees on about 300 hectares of land of Boipariguda, Kundura, Borigumma and Ramgiri areas. The product is harvested between mid-February to April-end and several tribal families eke out a living of it. However, the traders manage to smuggle out hundreds of quintals of quality tamarind to AP and Chhattisgarh through narrow forest passages of Boipariguda, Ramgiri, Mathili, Balimela and Kotpad by hoodwinking innocent locals.
The minimum support price (MSP) of tamarind for 2015-16 was fixed at Rs 26 a kg, but middlemen pay only between Rs12 to Rs15 to the locals. They even engage some of them to pack the produce in gunny bags and ask them to cross the state border into Andhra and Chhattisgarh on bicycles, thus evading checkgates and having to pay nothing in the form of excise. Later, the bags are transported to various markets. Every day, thousands of bags of tamarind are smuggled into AP via four-wheelers, buses and trucks as it is in high demand there, sources revealed.
Though the panchayats were asked to keep tabs on the collection and price fixation of the produce, they have done nothing to protect the interest of the tribals, sources said.
When contacted over the issue, Jeypore gram panchayat executive officer (GPEO) Kailash Rath said local tribals are being asked not to sell the product for low prices. However, traders continue to purchase tamarind from them for throwaway prices as the administration is yet to take any action against them so far.