Even as 20 red sanders woodcutters were killed in the task force encounter in Seshachalam forest two days ago, it appears entry of the hired labourers into the region continues, despite the serious efforts taken by the Police Department to keep it at bay.
The arrest of 14 people by Kallur, Puttur and Vijayapuram Police for allegedly sneaking into the woods on Wednesday, just a day after the encounter that shook the entire nation, is enough of an indication that the woodcutters are in no mood to budge.
The police officials are worried over the way woodcutters persistently enter the forest in hundreds, despite in the know of the life risk attached to it and it continues even after the formation of the task force and the combing operations intensified.
It may be recalled that a joint team of police and forest sleuths was formed by then Chittoor SP Kanthi Rana Tata, while a serious attempt was made by his successor P.H.D. Ramakrishna for counselling the family members of the woodcutters. The district police had gone all the way to Vellore and Tiruvannamalai districts of Tamil Nadu in July 2014 to identify the regular offenders and counsel their families .
Apart from distributing pamphlets in Tamil, the policemen also got pasted wall posters in prominent localities such as village centres and bus stops. Seeking to overcome the language barrier, as most of the woodcutters living in the hilly areas are illiterate, ‘dramatized’ posters depicting animated images of ‘woodcutters behind bars’ were also put up.
While the combing operations yielded results, there are indications that the tempo of the counselling programmes died down after the initial euphoria, both owing to official apathy and the indifference shown by the villagers to pay heed to the advisory. The tendency to ‘go that extra mile’ to make money was found to be strong among the men of Javvadhu hills, in the absence of cultivable land and other sources of livelihood, according to a resident of Kannamangalam village. More so, woodcutting and climbing hills are the prominent traits of the people of these areas, given their association with the terrain, which the agents have been trying to effectively make use of.