TIRUVANNAMALAI/TIRUPATI:It would be a shocking revelation if proved. A 45-year-old from Polur taluk in Tamil Nadu claimed seven of his companions were picked up by Andhra police while they were on way to Tirupati, just a day before they were gunned down in the Seshachalam hills ‘encounter’.
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Sekar, from Polur taluk, told villagers he was among eight people who were on way to Tirupati, from where they were to make their way to the forest to fell red sanders. Five families Express spoke to said the slain men had given different excuses for going out of town. The group allegedly assembled at Padavedu on Monday afternoon and took the bus to Vellore. They hopped on to the bus from Thiruthani to Tirupati. From Tirupati, the eight planned to sneak into the forest area. They were reportedly engaged by an agent of the red sanders mafia, Venkatesan of Pudur, who promised them a daily wage of Rs 1,000.
Everything went as per plan till the bus reached Nagari in Chittoor district around 6 p.m. on Monday. “A team of AP police stopped the bus and picked up seven members of the group. However, Sekar, who was sitting separately from the group next to a woman, said he managed to give the police the slip. He claimed two stops after the police picked up his associates, he alighted from the bus and returned to his native place,” said P Murthy of Anthanapuram panchayat, quoting Sekar.
Sekar reached his village late Monday night and reportedly informed Panchayat president Santhamurthi about the arrest of the seven persons — S Mahendran (22), G Moorthy (38) and G Munusamy (35) of Murugapadi, V Palani (35) of Kalasamuthiram and K Perumal (37), A Sasikumari (34) and M Murugan (38) of Vettagiripalayam — by the AP police.
The information, in turn, was also communicated to a few of their relatives the same night. Though many thought it was a regular arrest, the next morning flash news on television about the encounter by RSASTF inside Seshachalam forest sent shock waves through their households and shattered them.
“Sekar was petrified. Fearing police action, he disappeared from the village shortly after seeing the video footage of his lifeless companions in the forest area,” said another villager, preferring anonymity. The relatives and neighbours of those killed gathered in large numbers in front of Kannamangalam Police Station and demanded stern action against the AP police.
“Seven from our village and neighbouring villages were arrested 10 hours before the so-called encounter by the AP police in Nagari. We have an eyewitness to prove it. It clearly shows all 20 were arrested elsewhere by the special task force and brutally gunned down. It’s an inhuman act,” said an angry young woman and the relative of one of the persons killed in the shootout.
DSP of Arni, N Mani, when asked about the villagers’ claims, said they were on the lookout for Sekar. But he is at large. “Until we conduct a proper inquiry with the person (Sekar) and cross-check the information, we cannot confirm it,” he said.
AP Civil Liberties Committee state executive member K Kranti Chaitanya too narrated the same sequence of events. Karunakaran, elder brother of Munuswamy, who also came to Tirupati for receiving his brother’s body, suspected the victims were killed in cold blood. Chaitanya said after choosing two locations in the forest, the police indiscriminately fired bullets into the vital organs of the woodcutters from pointblank range and demanded that murder cases be registered against the policemen responsible for the killings. He also sought a CBI inquiry under the supervision of the Supreme Court into the encounter and suspension of RSASTF Deputy IG M Kantha Rao.
TN Announces Rs 3 Lakh Solatium
The Tamil Nadu government on Wednesday announced a solatium of Rs 3 lakh each to the families of those gunned down by the AP police in the Seshachalam forest. Meanwhile, protests continued in Tamil Nadu and about 250 protestors were detained Wednesday.