Even as the Opposition Congress and the Tamil Nadu parties upped their ante over the Chittoor encounter of 20 alleged smugglers, the Andhra government stood its ground defending the police action and stated that it would continue to protect its natural resources by all means.
Bojjala Gopalakrishna Reddy, state forest minister, had on Tuesday said his government would clamp down on smugglers with an iron hand and also expose the kingpins involved, hinting at politicians.
“Do you think those men were in the forests to cut grass? There is no doubt those killed on Tuesday are smugglers,” Reddy said, adding, “The incident is not an end but the beginning. We are retrieving the call data from the smugglers and will go all the way to catch the real culprits.” Speaking to HT, Reddy said his government had big plans to generate revenue by global auction of red sandalwood.
In December last year, the state garnered Rs. 850 crore by selling 2,600 tonne as first tranch in an auction approved by the Centre.
The revenue-deficit state has even included the red sandalwood as a revenue source in the budget documents.
Red sandalwood smuggling is a challenge the state is faced with, so much so that after he took over as chief minister last June, Nara Chandrababu Naidu vowed to curb the menace — a persistent problem in his home district Chittoor.
In the past few months, the state took steps like setting up special task forces to deal with smugglers. About 5,000 smugglers and woodcutters have been taken into custody since.
Soon after the incident on Tuesday, Naidu briefed Union home minister Rajnath Singh about the encounter. Based on a petition by a human rights group, the Hyderabad high court on Wednesday asked the state and the DGP to submit a report in two days. The NHRC, which took note of the incident on Tuesday, had also sought a report from the state.
Meanwhile, Andhra DGP JV Ramadu stormed out of a press conference when asked to react to allegations of a fake encounter. Asked if police could have shot the men on their legs, he said, “Is there a law that you should shoot on the legs? Don’t ask nonsense questions (sic).” When questioned about claims of relatives that a survivor had surfaced in Tamil Nadu, he said, “They’re smugglers’ relatives. Do you think they will appreciate police action?” The media then asked why the men could not be arrested alive to which Ramadu said, “In the past six months, we have arrested 5,000 smugglers. But we can’t always arrest.”