Andhra Pradesh

Fighting a hostile terrain, blazing sun, virus and red sanders smugglers

After negotiating a stretch of Seshachalam hills’ inhospitable terrain from dawn to dusk, and with just half a litre of drinking water left in the bottle, a member of the Red Sanders Anti-Smuggling Task Force (RSASTF) will find himself in a valley whose water sources have dried up. And he has miles to go in hot pursuit of red sanders smuggling operatives, sweating and gasping for breath. This is the predicament of the members of combing parties between April and June.

Four teams of the task force, each consisting of 15 to 20 members, regularly go in search of trespassers in the jungles of the Seshachalam hills. As they primarily focus on the entry and exit points of woodcutters and operatives providing logistics to them, the combing teams cover a vast area spread over a radius of 30 km, from Talakona forests in the west of Chittoor district to Balapalle range in Kadapa district.

In summer months, each member of the combing parties will carry eight litres of water with him. On most occasions, the teams have to spend more than 36 hours in the thick forests. They take fixed routes, passing through some of the known water sources like streams and springs, for easy replenishments and some rest.

Mysterious phenomenon

Strangely, in spite of the copious rains from June till December last year, 20 known water sources along the route of the combing parties have gone dry this year, considered very early. "Circumstances surrounding us in the jungles are very difficult now. Except for the Kalyani dam at the foothills of Tirumala in the west and the Papavinasanam, and KP dams in the upper reaches of Tirumala, all the minor streams and springs have now dried up. We are forced to drink stagnant water from the last sources, by mixing chlorine tablets," says Task Force inspector M. Vasu.

Mischief

Summer heat and drying up of water sources will lead to viral infections among the task force personnel. "In order to create obstacles in our paths, the smuggling operatives have deliberately resorted to forest fires close to the water sources this summer. Due their mischief, even the thin flow of water in the streams has turned muddy and unfit for drinking," Mr. Vasu says.

Meanwhile, 45 personnel of the combing parties were infected by the coronavirus during the last eight months. "In most cases, our personnel get infected by COVID-positive smuggling operatives while escorting them in close proximity for long distances after nabbing them. Our family members are also infected through us," says a senior officer.

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Printable version | May 10, 2021 9:43:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/fighting-a-hostile-terrain-blazing-sun-virus-and-red-sanders-smugglers/article34353142.ece

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