Operation Thunder 2020 : India Customs intercepts 18 tonnes red sandalwood

Operation Thunder 2020,Why in News : The India Customs intercepted an 18-tonne shipment of red sandalwood destined for the United Arab Emirates, during a month-long “Operation Thunder 2020”

What is Operation Thunder 2020

  • It is coordinated by INTERPOL and the World Customs Organization (WCO), Operation Thunder 2020 rallied 103 countries against environmental crime.
  • “Operation Thunder 2020” is the fourth in a series of “Thunder” operations carried out annually since 2017.
  • The operation against environmental crime was held from September 14 to October 11.
  • The participating countries focused mainly on the species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, an international agreement aimed at ensuring the international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

Why Operation Thunder

  • It resulted in large seizures of protected wildlife and forestry specimens and products, triggering arrests and investigations worldwide.
  • Wildlife and forestry crime is the world’s fourth largest illegal trade — a lucrative illegal business with far-reaching and devastating consequences not just for the environment but also for society, public health and global economics
  • Wildlife and forestry crime often occurs hand in hand with tax evasion, corruption, money laundering and even murder, with organized crime groups using the same routes to smuggle protected wildlife as they do people, weapons, drugs and other illegal products,
  • “Sustainability for People, Prosperity and the Planet”, fighting wildlife and forestry crime is not only vital for the preservation of our planet but also for the long-term prosperity of national economies and populations.
  • Strong, coordinated responses at all levels are needed to address the activities of transnational organized crime groups involved in wildlife crime and to impact on and disrupt illegal trade chains across range, transit and destination states.”
  • Such coordinated global operations give impetus to a positive feedback loop.

CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)

  • CITES was drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at a meeting of the (IUCN) International Union for Conservation of Nature.
  • It came into force in 1975
  • It consists of 183 parties (include countries or regional economic integration organizations) that abide by CITES regulations by implementing legislation within their own borders to enforce those regulations.
  • CITES is legally binding on the Parties
  • Located in Geneva, Switzerland
  • CITES is administered by the United Nations under its UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) Wing.
  • The Convention of Parties (CoP) to CITES is the supreme decision-making body of the Convention and comprises all its Parties.

CITES Appendix


  • Species that are danger of extinction
  • Commercial trade is prohibited of listed items in Appendix – I
  • Permits are required for import and export.


  • Species that are not facing imminent extinction but need monitoring so that any trade doesn’t become a threat.
  • Trade permits required for items listed in Appendix – II


  • This Appendix includes species that are protected in at least one country.
  • Regulations for these species vary, but typically the country that requested the listing can issue export permits, and export from other countries requires a certificate of origin.

What is Environmental Crime ?

  • Wildlife crime refers to acts committed contrary to national and international laws and regulations intended to protect natural resources and to manage their sustainable use. It poses a serious threat to the survival of migratory animals such as birds, elephants, big cats, antelopes, cetaceans, fish and marine turtles.
  • Environmental criminals pose a grave threat to our everyday lives, our planet and to future generations. Borders do not restrict environmental crimes, which range from ivory trafficking and overfishing of protected species, to illegal logging and the dumping of hazardous waste.
  • Unlike the illegal trade in drugs and other illicit goods, natural resources are finite and cannot be replenished in a lab. As such, there is a sense of urgency to combat environmental crime.
  • At the international level, wildlife crime involves violations of intergovernmental treaties such as the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) as well as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which regulates exports and imports of wildlife.

India’s Initiative for protection of wildlife crime

“Operation Thunderbird”

  • Operation Thunderbird is the code name for INTERPOL’s multi-national and multi-species enforcement operation
  • To fight against wildlife crime, WCCB (Wildlife Crime Control Bureau under the aegis of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change) coordinated “OPERATION THUNDER BIRD” in India, from January 30-February 19, 2017
  • It has seen an overwhelming response from the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Maharashtra, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh

“Operation Save Kurma”

  • The WCCB had launched a species specific operation on turtles, code named “OPERATION SAVE KURMA”
  • It was conducted from December 15 last year to January 30, 2017

Red Sandalwood

  • Red sanders (Pterocarpus santalinus) is endemic to South India.
  • They are found in the Tropical Dry Deciduous forest, tree is endemic to several districts in Andhra Pradesh and some parts of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
  • Red Sanders usually grow in the rocky, degraded and fallow lands with Red Soil and hot and dry climate.
  • It is known for its rich hue and therapeutic properties, is high in demand across Asia, particularly in China and Japan, for cosmetics and medicinal products, wood-works and musical instruments.
  • This tree grow naturally and also considered an important part in the source of income for native south Indian population, But overexploitation prompted the Union government in the 1980s to recommend inclusion of red sanders in Appendix II of CITES.
  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has put it under the category of Appendix – II
  • The species was listed in Appendix II of CITES in 1995, and subsequently export of red sanders was prohibited in 2004.
  • In 2010, when the CITES was planning to suspend trade of red sanders obtained from India, the government submitted a Non-Detriment Finding (NDF) report saying it must be allowed to export from cultivated sources.
  • So in 2012, India got an export quota on red sanders from CITES, under which the country could export 310 tonnes of red sanders obtained from “artificially propagated” sources (grown on farms) and 11,806 tonnes of wood from seized sources. 

Operation Thunder 2020

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