Twenty woodcutters from Tamil Nadu, found felling red sanders, were killed in an alleged encounter in the Seshachalam forest at the foot of the Tirumala hills on Tuesday.
The newly formed Red-sanders Anti-Smuggling Taskforce was on a combing operation near Srinivasa Mangapuram, Srivarimettu and Eethagunta on the Seshachalam hill ranges on Monday when they spotted footprints.
One taskforce group moved towards Eethagunta, and the other towards Cheekateegalakona. On finding over 100 woodcutters felling trees and carrying logs, the officials asked them to surrender. However, the woodcutters rained stones and hurled sickles at the team, injuring some of them.
“We fired random shots in self-defence,” a taskforce member said on condition of anonymity.
A.P. CM briefs Rajnath, Governor
Following the encounter in which 20 woodcutters were shot dead by Andhra Pradesh’s red sanders anti-smuggling taskforce, Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu held a high-level review meeting with Ministers and top officials. He also spoke over the phone with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Governor E.S.L Narasimhan and briefed them on the incident.
There was tension in some villages in Chittoor district with a large Tamil-speaking population, while about 10 buses of APSRTC (Tirupati region) were damaged at two places in Chennai by mobs apparently in reaction to the gunning down of the woodcutters.
Eight of the slain woodcutters were believed to be from Namiyambattu village in Tiruvannamalai district, eight from Sankarapuram in Villupuram district and four from Vellore district of Tamil Nadu.
The policemen recovered axes, sickles, red sanders logs and some empty bullet shells from the scene of encounter, apart from four country-made guns reportedly wielded by some of the woodcutters.
The A.P. police department was in touch with their Tamil Nadu counterparts to get their identity established.
The revenue officials found the task of conducting ‘Panchanama’ daunting, as it was very difficult to reach the spot. Though the district authorities reportedly directed four Tahsildars of the contiguous mandals to rush their staff to the spot to hasten the process, inaccessibility in the form of rocky terrain and the not-so-motorable path, besides the blistering heat, proved a dampener.