With politicians and rights activists stepping in to express resentment over the alleged encounter of 20 woodcutters in Seshachalam hills in the early hours of Tuesday, the demand for a comprehensive judicial inquiry gets louder.
Several rights activists converged on the mortuary of Sri Venkateswara Ramnarain Ruia Government General Hospital in Tirupati on Wednesday, where the bodies were kept ready to be handed over to their relatives, after completion of post-mortem and other formalities.
Members of the Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights (OPDR) and Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC) were vociferous in their criticism of the State Government for the encounter and termed the it ‘absolutely fake’.
OPDR President (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana) M. Srinivasulu criticised the State Governemnt for the encounter and said the innocent were ‘mercilessly killed'. He wondered as to how the policemen could always shoot down small-time labourers and not the sharks behind the smuggling operations.
He also raised suspicion over the way the bodies had been dumped in a single locality. “Will not the woodcutters run away if the cops had fired in the air? Even if they had shot down one, the others would have fled. Where was the need to gun down 20 members?”, he sought to know. OPDR Secretary Ram Kumar recalled that more than 200 woodcutters were languishing in sub-jails for months and termed it another form of human rights violation.
Demanding a probe by a retired judge, APCLC State executive member K. Kranti Chaitanya ridiculed the official version and alleged that the Task Force members had indiscriminately opened fire. Pointing to the politician-policeman-forest staff nexus, he indicated that killing innocent coolies would never help eradicate smuggling.
Mr. Chaitanya added that the Government should hand over the bodies to their family members in an honourable manner and also arrange to keep them in the mortuary till the kin’s arrival.
After taking a glimpse at the bodies, Former MP Chinta Mohan, himself a medical practitioner, said he had not found any injury below the knee. He termed the magisterial inquiry as a ‘token’ gesture.
“It is a fake inquiry into the fake encounter”, he said, insisting that the woodcutters had been shot at point blank range.