A few months after sandalwood smuggler Veerappan's long reign of terror ended in 2004 with his killing in a police encounter, Chinnalu Chinnegowda began his tryst with the trees famous for their fragrance. Unlike Veerappan, however, Chinnegowda was on the right side of the law.
The farmer from Kiragavalu village in the old Mysore region purchased 225 acres of land in an area where Veerappan had great control in his heydays. The uncultivated rain-fed land in the erstwhile sandalwood-rich region of Kollegal cost Chinnegowda close to ₹2 crore in 2005.
Until 2005, Chinnegowda, then an aspiring politician, had no clue about mass cultivation of sandalwood. He only used it in small amounts for religious purposes and knew it had a great commercial value. But egged on by a friend, Chinnegowda saw a hope in making money through sandalwood farming, especially after the state government changed rules in 2003 to allow private individuals to own sandalwood trees.
Chinnegowda planted about 3,000 sandalwood trees, a highly-endemic species, in about 100 acres of land in 2005-06. Depending on 11 borewells and two open wells, he cultivated banana, pomegranate and lime in the rest of the land. To his advantage, in 2012 the Kabini dam water reached his farm through the canals. Despite all that, Chinnegowda dreams are far from coming true anytime soon.
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