TIRUPATI:Combing teams involved in Tuesday’s operation against red sanders smugglers refute the allegation that the encounter was a pre-planned assault.
Sources involved in the operation told Express that the combing started two days ago. The joint team of Red Sanders Anti-Smuggling Task Force (RSASTF) and forest department has 11 men armed with guns. The team started combing in the late hours of Sunday.
On Monday, the team, while returning, suspected movement of smugglers deep inside the forest. “Footprints of some persons were spotted far away from Eethamagulagunta. After examining them, it was realised that there was a big group inside the forest and that they were carrying some huge weights,” an officer said on condition of anonymity.
After estimating the number of smugglers inside the forest, the team members split into two, with two members acting as scouts. The smugglers, on seeing the scouting team pelted them with stones. “The smugglers surrounded the scouts and tried to kill them. Our timely intervention saved them,” he said. The second team started shooting at the smugglers at around 5 am on Tuesday. The position of the smugglers gave them advantage to hurl stones, said another officer. “Despite several warnings, they continued to attack us. We opened fire as there was no other option left,” he said. Meanwhile, political parties condemned the encounter, terming it as fake. CPI leader P Harinath Reddy said the police and forest department are trying to protect the kingpins.
The news about the encounter frightened pilgrims who trek to Tirumala via Srivari Mettu footpath. “Me and my family members were shocked to see police and media vehicles passing by,” said Manigandan, a pilgrim from Tamil Nadu.