Involvement of common people and government employees comes to the fore

Red sanders smugglers are stereotyped in these parts of the State as ferocious, well-built tribal tree-fellers imported from Tamil Nadu. But the recent arrests have given an altogether new dimension to the involvement of the ubiquitous ‘common man’ in the smuggling racket.

Kalidas, a bakery owner of Tirupati was recently arrested for working as an agent to a smuggler. He was known to procure manpower, arrange logistics and pay wages on behalf of the smuggler operating from an undisclosed location. The police-forest taskforce cracked the whip on the racket after keeping tabs over those involved. The arrest sent shock waves among the denizens.

What unravelled yet another disturbing dimension was the involvement of government employees.

The arrest of Srinivasulu Reddy, a health supervisor in Mahal PHC came as a prize catch, as he was not at all in the ‘wanted’ list. Similarly, the nabbing of forest beat officer Rama Subbaiah and protection watchers B.Nageswara Rao and B. Prabhakar of Sanipaya region disclosed the presence of ‘insiders’ in the racket.

After a base camp was set up over a year ago at Pulibonu near Kalyani dam, the taskforce is in the process of establishing a second one at Eethakunta near Srivari Mettu, the foot of Tirumala hills from where the trekking route starts. As this point witnessed a flurry of trafficking activity, the authorities thought it fit to have a base camp here with 18 men, drawn from the Police and Forest Departments. “A watch tower will be erected as it is from here that the guards will keep any eye on the forests,” Officer on Special Duty G. Uday Kumar said, adding that the taskforce was contemplating to have another base camp in Balapalle of Kadapa district.

While base camps are meant to keep away wood cutters from forests, the arrest of hitherto-unknown agents residing in towns is slowly and steadily revealing the ‘real face’ of smuggling.