Woodcutters’ encounter in Andhra Pradesh has raised many questions and people are in doubt whether it is a fake encounter.
Red sanders smuggling has been a growing concern for the states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The highly endangered plant species is smuggled through the forests for some time now, and the authorities have been looking for a way to put an end to this illegal operation. A special task force led by DIG Kantha Rao was put together on January 22 to handle the situation better.
In the wee hours of April 7, the police-forest team killed 20 woodcutters in the forests of Sheshalachalam. Kantha Rao said that the team had received a tip off that smugglers would gather around in the area and the team acted on the tip. On confronting them, the team was attacked by the woodcutters with axes and knives, so the police were left with no choice, but to to open fire in self-defense, something that is acceptable under the constitution as well. However, the autopsy showed otherwise.
A senior doctor from the autopsy team revealed that all 20 woodcutters were fired upon from a close range, and had multiple bullet wounds in their head, chest and abdomen. This has led to people questioning the supposed encounter. Human rights activists have expressed their dissatisfaction over the issue, claiming that issues like these will only keep happening unless radical changes are made.
On being questioned, Kantha Rao said that he had been hired to keep the forest resources clean, and would do his duties as best as he could. Another senior police officer said that smugglers plunder the red sanders deposits on a daily basis, and that their activities always begin from being woodcutters and ending with becoming smugglers.
The big question that is looming around the issue though is whether the police are entitled to fire upon heedless woodcutters, leading to the biggest police encounter involving red sanders smugglers in the state.