Walla Patta and the Underworld

wallapatta-herbs-2
Walla Patta (Gyrinops Walla in botanical terms) is a tree of unusual value. When the tree is injured it tends to
allow a fungus to grow inside the bark and produce a sweet smelling resin known as agarwood and used in the
perfume industry.

The Police Special Task Force seized a cargo of a rare herb known as Wallapatta that is processed to make
some of the finest perfumes in the world. The cargo had been packed to be smuggled out of the country.
Mass-scale illegal operation must have needed high-level protection and support from bureaucratic
or political agents, said Verite Research Media Analysis.

This is a precious commodity; with its value ranging from 10 to 850 USD per kg depending on
quality. But Sri Lanka bans the export of the bark and resin, ostensibly to protect the tree.
Conservation dominance could be self-defeating: There was no debate in the press on the ban. The discourse rather accepts as dominant the limited and dated conservation paradigm based solely on monitoring and security. The absence of the economic perspective prevented discussion of creative possibilities: can the permission to export and generate revenue from the plant also help to preserving and proliferating the plant?
Industrial criminal escapade: It is the resin that is of great value and acquiring walla patta bark with the
resin is a long and involved process. The puzzle in this case is how the culprits managed such a difficult feat. The
tree has to be alive, injured and survive for a period, with a limited probability even then of producing the resin.
Much of the processing would have been within protected forest areas, monitored by the forest conservation department. To acquire the 13,489kg of walla patta bark that was intercepted (equivalent dry weight of about 400 complete walla patta trees), the operation would have had to be conducted in industrial proportions.
High level complicity: The scale of the criminal project has given rise to the concern in the press that the operation would have had high level political or bureaucratic complicity. Furthermore the press mentioned well known underworld families as involved parties, indicating that the existence and impunity of an unaccosted,
known underworld mafia has become normalized in Sri Lanka.
The plant that provides a base for the manufacture of non-alcoholic scents has given rise to a slow stench in the
Sinhala press, from the size of the escapade and suspicion of official complicity.

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