12:27 pm - Saturday November 7, 2015

Police kill 20 sandalwood smugglers in Andhra Pradesh

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TIRUPATI: Twenty red sanders smugglers were killed in an alleged encounter with a joint team of special police and forest personnel in the Seshachalam forests of Chittoor district in the early hours of Tuesday. The incident took place at Etagunta and Vacchinodu Banda hamlets, deep in the forest in Chandragiri mandal. While nine smugglers died in the firing at Eetagunta, 11 were killed at Vacchinodu Banda.

This is the biggest-ever police encounter involving smugglers of red sanders in Andhra Pradesh.

Red sanders is a highly endangered plant species that thrives only in the forests of Seshachalam and in a few pockets in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The AP government has intensified its operations against smuggling of red sanders.

According to special task force deputy inspector general Kanta Rao, the police-forest team had to open fire after a large number of red sanders smugglers attacked them with stones, axes and knives. He said the police-forest team took up combing operation in the Seshachalam forest on a tip off that hundreds of red sanders smugglers and coolies had gathered in the forest area to fell down the protected trees. When the police-forest party came near the smugglers, the latter resorted to attack. “The teams fired in self-defence. Nine smugglers died at Eetagunta and 11 at Vacchinodu Banda. The search is on for the smugglers, who had escaped from the forest after the incident,” DIG Kanta Rao told mediapersons after visiting the sites of encounter.

Two policemen received injuries in the attack by the smugglers. The police have spruced up security in Chittoor district following the incident. Check points have been set up in all border areas. All vehicles leaving the district are being thoroughly searched. Hotels and lodges are also been kept under close watch for possible stay of red sanders smugglers. Police have identified the dead smugglers as native of Vellore district in Tamil Nadu. AP home minister N China Rajappa said special task force and forest personnel were involved in the combing operations. “The police are on the lookout for the smugglers who had escaped from the forest,” the IDG said.

AP chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu held a review meeting with the state DGP JV Ramudu and senior officials. The state government has been opening cases under Prevention of Dangerous Activities Act against the smugglers in a bid to curb smuggling of red sanders. In fact, it has also initiated measures to confiscate the properties of the smugglers. But its efforts have thus far been of little success with the smuggling of red sanders going on unabated.

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