TN demands probe into forest killings by AP cops

Policemen had faced stone-throwing smugglers and death of their colleagues may have made them trigger happy

GN Bureau | April 8, 2015


#TN   #Tamil Nadu   #AP   #Andhra Pradesh   #red sanders   #killings  

While the Tamil Nadu government has asked the Andhra Pradesh to order for an enquiry on the police shooting, in which 20 people mainly from Tamil Nadu were killed on Tuesday, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has sought a report from the AP government.  Most of the victims come from different parts of Tamil Nadu including Tiruvanamalai, Vellore and Salem.

Tamil Nadu chief minister O Panneerselva, in a letter to Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu, has said "I am very distressed to learn that in an operation conducted early this morning (7.4.2015) by the Red Sanders Anti-Smuggling Task Force personnel of Andhra Pradesh in the Srivarimettu and Eesagunda areas in Seshachala forest area, about twenty persons sustained bullet injuries and succumbed to the injuries on the spot".

“Many of these persons are reportedly from Tiruvannamalai and Vellore Districts of Tamil Nadu. While it is possible that these persons may have been engaged in illegal activities, the occurrence of such high casualties in the operation raises concerns whether the Task Force personnel acted with adequate restraint. Even if the persons had been engaged in illicit tree cutting, efforts could have been made to apprehend them rather than take such drastic action and cause such high casualties,” said the Tamil Nadu chief minister. He asked the Andhra Pradesh Government to order a credible and speedy enquiry into the matter so that the facts are established and responsibility fixed for possible human rights violations.

The Andhra Pradesh Police had said they had shot dead 20 smugglers of red sanders, a rare wood with huge demand globally.   The police said the police team retaliated after the police personnel came under attack. The smugglers, once challenged by the police, tried to overpower the security personnel and take away the logs. In the process, they attacked the policemen, the police said.

The police claimed that the smugglers have a history of attacking forest personnel and policemen. Two forest officials were stoned to death by red sander cutters in Seshachalam forest in December 2013.

The incident was condemned by all the major political parties in the State and rights activist have called it a massacre.

Chandrababu Naidu on Wednesday briefed Home Minister Rajnath Singh on the encounter. His office denied that the home ministry had asked for a report.

Meanwhile, the NHRC has issued a notice to the Andhra Pradesh government seeking a report on the killings.  NHRC member Justice D. Murugesan observed that the shooting cannot be justified on the grounds of self-defence, since it resulted in the loss of 20 lives. The hearing on the issue will be on April 23 in Hyderabad.

Political parties including the DMK, BJP, PMK, Congress and CPI have claimed that “poor labourers from Tamil Nadu” were among the victims and have asked the state government to pursue lawful means to check smuggling of red sandalwood.

Civil rights activists group People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) called it a massacre.

On the other hand AP government communications advisor Parakala Prabhakar  has justified the action of the state police, alleging that the actions of the villagers forced the force to open fire.

"The large scale smuggling of red sanders has been going on for decades. Last night and in the early hours of today, about 400 people encircled a very small force of police and forest officials. They started pelting stones and attacking them; the police had to open fire," Prabhakar told the media.

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