VELLORE/TIRUVANNAMALAI: Tribal youth from the northern districts of Tamil Nadu continue to be lured by the red sander mafia for felling red sander trees despite the April 7 twin encounters with the Andhra Pradesh Special Task Force (STF) that left 20 men from Tamil Nadu allegedly shot dead in cold blood in the Seshachalam Reserve Forest.
On Friday night, the Special Task Force comprising personnel from the police and forest departments opened two rounds of fire in the air and arrested 23 persons at Bakarapeta forest area, hailing from Tirupattur in Vellore, Salem and Villupuram districts in Tamil Nadu and a few others hailing from Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh.
“The STF seized 13 red sander logs from them,” said a source.
Within the next 24 hours, the STF also nabbed 35 more persons while they were travelling in a bus within the Palamaner Police Station limit in Chittoor district. Red sander logs sawed and chopped into small pieces worth `3 lakh were seized from them.
“The woodcutters are native of Salem district,” said the source.
With these arrests in the last two days alone, more than 50 men, predominantly from the northern districts in Tamil Nadu and from Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh were arrested for red sander logging.
Undeterred by the prospect of losing their lives, the youth from rural Tamil Nadu discreetly sneak into the forest in the neighbouring State to chop red sander trees, on the instructions of red sander smugglers for a few thousand rupees.
“Though many have been gunned down in the last five years, youth looking at easy money are risking their lives once they step into the forest of AP,” said a police official in Vellore. This willingness to endanger their lives to earn a living and sustain themselves show a larger social malaise with little opportunities for them to earn a decent living. With farming as the main livelihood, the failure of rains has forced many to resort to this illegal activity.