Tribals are at the mercy of forest gangs in TN and AP

Police killing of 20 near Tirumala forest area is brutal massacre, say activist

Shivani Gaurav Chaturvedi | April 8, 2015


#Tamil Nadu   #Andhra Pradesh   #forest   #killing   #enounter   #PUCL  

Killing of 20 unarmed men in the forests of Chittoor near the abode of Lord Balaji in Tirumala by Andhra Pradesh special task force personnel is being termed as brutal massacre by the activists.

The victims hailed mainly from Tamil Nadu. Police claim they were smugglers of red sanders and they gunned them down in “self- defence”, after coming under attack from them. 

But rights activist terms it a massacre. People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) general secretary for Tamil Nadu and Puducherry S Balamurugan talking to Governance Now said, “We won’t even say it is a fake encounter. We term it as a brutal massacre. It is a well planned murder.”

Smuggling sandalwood has long been a lucrative business in the area and controlled by local gang leaders. But the victims and actual labourers are poor tribals.

What forces these poor people into such acts? Tamil Nadu is perhaps the only state which has no laws to protect land for tribals, said CR Bijoy, a tribal activist based in Coimbatore. Speaking to Governance Now, he says the state has also not implemented the Forest Rights Act. Not a single title has been issued under the Forest Rights Act. “So, when there is no law to protect tribal land and the rights are not recognised, they are pushed as labourers and are being exploited,” said Bijoy.

“To me the incident looks like a turf war. There would have been competition among various groups and this was to wipe out one group. This was an attempt to take control over smuggling trade. And it could not have happened without the involvement of forest officials and police,” he added.  

 “Tribals conditions are extremely pathetic in Tamil Nadu. Government diverts funds meant for tribal welfare to other schemes. Mafia groups are taking advantage of poor conditions of the tribal community and exploiting them,” said Balamurugan.

To protect the resources in the forest these communities should be given power as per the 2006 forest rights principles. Bureaucrats and forest officials cannot protect forest area, he said. 

Sudha Ramalingam, senior advocate in Madras high court and human rights activist said, “It is a total violation of human rights. FIR should be registered under section 302 of IPC as per NHRC guidelines. It is the court which has to exonerate or punish those guilty of killing the 20 persons. These migrant labourers who were killed are not the real beneficiaries of the crime. It is high time that the real mafias are taken to task through legal means and the victims’ families be adequately compensated.”   

Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu chief minister O Panneerselvam led the political class in demanding a probe into the large scale casualties in the police action.  Members of fringe political outfits congregated outside the Andhra Bhavan in T Nagar locality and held protests on Tuesday. They demanded justice for those killed in the police “massacre”.

DMK chief M Karunanidhi condemned the state government, which he said did precious little despite such incidents taking place for the past few months. “Both the state governments did not discuss the issue of red sanders smuggling and see now 20 lives are lost,” he said. “Ensure such incidents do not recur and give adequate compensation to the families of the deceased,” he demanded.   

The BJP too condemned the killings. The party state unit president, Tamilisai Soundararajan, said shooting anybody cannot be justified.
Tamil Nadu Congress Committee chief, EVKS Elangovan has demanded a proper investigation into the killing incident, which has affected bus services between Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
 

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