Veerappan-style smugglers attack Tirumala rangers
Tirumala: In an unprecedented massed attack, red sanders smugglers attacked a team of eight unarmed forest officials in the dense Seshachalam forests, around 15 km from the Tirumala temple on Sunday, and killed two.
The victims were deputy range officer N.R. Sridhar, 49, and assistant beat officer David Karunakar, 42. Six others managed to escape, but one forest officer was seriously injured in the incident that occurred in the Peddabandala Chenu forests.
Officials said that a team of eight officers went into the forest on Sunday morning following information provided by a smuggler who had been nabbed on Thursday, that about 100 smugglers were chopping down red sanders trees.
The team did not inform either the police or the Task Force, and went into the forest unarmed since they are not allowed to carry weapons.
According to Chandrasekhar, who survived the gruesome attack with minor injuries, the officers halted their vehicle and were proceeding on foot when they were pelted with stones from all directions. The unarmed officers were in no position to retaliate and fled to save their lives. Sridhar and David were surrounded by the smugglers, who lynched them and left the bodies hanging.
Next: It bore Veerappan mark
It bore Veerappan mark
U. Sudhakar Reddy | DC
Hyderabad: Red sanders smugglers are using the notorious methods of brigand Veerappan to smuggle sandalwood on the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka-Kerala border area.
Veerappan was killed in an encounter with a Karnataka-Tamil Nadu special task force team in 2004. But the smuggling of precious wood has not stopped, and in fact has assumed alarming proportions with foreign agencies said to be involved as well.
Top police officials based in Rayalaseema said that labour gangs employed by Veerappan to chop down sandalwood trees in the Satya-mangalam forests are taking part in the red sander smuggling in Seshachalam forests.
A top police official said, “The supply chains, the intermediaries and the other methods used are exactly the same as with Veerappan. Most of the gangs are from Tamil Nadu and are intruding into AP. We are trying to establish if any of his former associates are involved. The issue is of serious concern as the smugglers are turning violent.”
The forest department said that the priced red sanders that grows mostly in the Chittor-Kadapa forests, is being routed to China via Hong Kong.
Principal chief conservator of forests B.S.S Reddy said, “Most of the gangs are from Tamil Nadu. They are coming in hundreds. This year alone we have arrested 3,000 of them for smuggling. We had arrested the same number last year.”
Reddy said that once arrested, they secure bail and are out of jail. “We have asked the government to amend the law and make red sander smuggling a non-bailable offence. We are expecting the government to take up the amendment shortly.”
The AP government has recently asked the Enforcement Directorate to probe red sander smuggling by Chinese nationals after preliminary investigations found not only the involvement of foreign nationals but also of international freight agencies and a chain of middlemen as well money transactions with international smugglers.
So far, nine persons, including five Chinese, have been arrested for the smuggling of both red sanders and sandalwood. The accused were sent to the Cherlapally jail in August 2013 after the court remanded them to judicial custody.
The cases were booked for the illegal transportation of sandalwood and red sanders under Section 32 of the AP Forest Act and AP Sandalwood and Red Sanders Possession Rules, the Biological Diversity Act and for theft under the IPC and for violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Police has identified one Anakiraman of Erumbuli village in Tiruvannamalai district as an expert in mobilising workers to chop down red sander trees and transport them.
Three other notorious gangsters are T. Dhanapal, B. Kirubakaran and S. Sundar from Chennai, who are also involved in shipping red sanders from Chennai port to China, the UAE and Malaysia.
Reddy Narayana of Kadapa and Nagari Subramanyam, Gajjela Seenu Reddy of Rompicherla are said to be in close contact with notorious international smugglers like Shafi, Antony Moris, Abdul Kalam and Mustafa Ahmed.
Next: They went in without guns
They went in without guns
Hyderabad: Forest guards who have to battle often violent criminals have not been given weapons for self defence even though the government has promised to do so. After the lynching of a forest guard in Nizamabad, in September, the Chief Minister had reiterated the promise.
Forest guards were stopped from carrying weapons when the Maoists ruled the forests for fear that their weapons would be snatched by the extremists. But this has left the guards vulnerable when confronted by increasingly violent smugglers in the dense forests.
Thousands of tonnes of red sanders seized from smugglers is lying in government custody, driving up demand for the wood and making smuggling extremely profitable. The disposal of the seized wood would have curtailed demand.The director-general of foreign trade has allowed the state government to export around 8,584 tonnes of red sanders, worth about Rs 1,000 crore. The Centre is now waiting for guidelines from the state government.
Imposing the Preventive Detention Act has not deterred smugglers because maximum imprisonment is not more than a year for red sanders smuggling under the Forest Act.
The forest department wants it be a non-bailable offence with seven years' imprisonment AP Forest Range Officers’ Association president Hari Mohan Reddy said, “Weapons have to be given on priority basis to the staff. Police escorts for the patrolling parties in smuggling areas have to be made mandatory. The forest department should also set up a task force for curbing the menace.”
The forest rangers point out that each beat officer is expected to cover 4,000 square kilometres of forest, which is humanly impossible. Recently 2,000 posts were sanctioned for the department, and the process of recruitment is on.