Among the 20 alleged sandalwood smugglers who were shot dead in the sandalwood forests of Andhra Pradesh this morning, many were reportedly from across the border, provoking strong protests from Tamil Nadu, which requires an independent inquiry to determine how the men were killed.
“Such high casualty raises concerns about police restraint,” wrote Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam to his counterpart, Andhra Pradesh’s Chandrababu Naidu, asking for an investigation into the encounter. “While police have every right to arrest and prosecute offenders, shooting them dead like birds is unacceptable,” said Vaiko, the chief of the MDMK party in Tamil Nadu.
Nine alleged red sandalwood smugglers were killed in one place and 11 in a second clash a kilometre away in Chittoor in Southern Andhra Pradesh. Deputy Inspector General M Kantha Rao said his officers had opened fire “in self-defence” after they were attacked in the thick forests with stones, axes and knives, about 570 kilometres south of Hyderabad.
A magisterial inquiry has been ordered by the Chittoor District Collector. VS Krishna, general secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Human Rights Forum, said an earlier attack described by police as a gunbattle had turned out to be “one-sided firing” by police. Many of the victims of such incidents were poor migrant workers from Tamil Nadu, he said.
A tonne of the rare red sandalwood or red sanders, as it is known, can fetch nearly Rs. 2 crore for the finest Grade ‘A’ quality in the international market. It has been declared an endangered tree. A tough plan to combat the smuggling of red sandalwood was a major campaign promise of Chandrababu Naidu ahead of last year’s election, which he won. He then formed a special task force, which has been given plenty of modern weapons and resources, to fight the red sandalwood mafia.
08/04/2015 00:19:20: +91 90030 48162: Leaders of political parties from Tamil Nadu have reacted strongly to the killing of 20 persons, including 12 Tamil workers, in Andhra Pradesh in police firing for their alleged involvement in red sander smuggling.
DMK leader M. Karunanidhi said even though there were incidents of smuggling and police firing for quite some time, the failure on the part of both the state government had led to the loss of 20 lives. “At least now both the governments should wake up to the situation and take remedial measures to prevent similar incidents in the future,” he said. PMK leader S. Ramadoss said though there was no doubt that those who were behind felling and smuggling of red sander should brought to book, the actions of the Andhra Pradesh police — firing indiscriminately and killing 20 persons — was unjustifiable.
He said all the 12 Tamil workers killed in the police firing had gone to Andhra Pradesh to work in granite quarries and to fell trees. “They were promised between Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 5,000 per month. Instead of conducting a proper inquiry, the police had killed them on the pretext of self-defence,” he alleged.
Dr. Ramadoss said already over 3,000 Tamils had been arrested in connection with red sander smuggling, and a bus owned by the state transport corporation had been confiscated for smuggling wood. “Since the Tamil Nadu government had not taken any action, it emboldened the Andhra Pradesh police,” he said, and demanded an inquiry into the incident by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court.
Claiming that no warning was issued before firing on those who were allegedly involved in red sander smuggling, TNCC president E.V.K.S. Elangovan said the action of the Andhra Pradesh police officials gave rise to suspicion.
“Of late a lot of illegal and unwanted activities have been reported in the name of curbing red sander smuggling. The government should order an inquiry into the incident by officials from both Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh,” he said in a statement.
Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK) leader Thol. Thirumavalavan demanded an unconditional apology from Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu and an inquiry by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court.
He said when people from Andhra Pradesh was killed in a collapse of a multi-storeyed building in Chennai, the Chief Minister made a visit and ensured proper compensation to the families of the victims. “Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam also should visit the spot,” he urged.