HYDERABAD: Despite growing protests in Tamil Nadu over the Seshachalam forest ‘encounter’, the Andhra Pradesh government made it clear that it would not announce any ex gratia to the 20 woodcutters who were killed “as they were gunned down when they were trying to smuggle precious red sanders’ logs from the forest.”
Much to the anger of the kin of the victims, AP Forest and Environment Minister Bojjala Gopalakrishna Reddy compared the 20 TN labourers with slain sandalwood smuggler Veerappan saying, “Why should we pay compensation for the families of those who died in the encounter? Were they patriots? Have they died for a noble cause? Did the TN government pay any ex gratia to the kin of Veerappan when he was shot dead by the TN task force police?”
He further added, “They (TN woodcutters) have not lost their lives for the sake of the country. They were shot down by the police when they had tried to attack forest officials and the security personnel in the forest. Do you think they had come to the Seshachalam forest to collect fodder?”
Gopalakrishna Reddy, senior minister in the State Cabinet, who is also considered a close aide of AP Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, made these comments soon after a high-level meeting chaired by his boss, which was aimed at taking stock of the prevailing situation after the encounter.
Earlier, in the wake of growing protests in neighbouring Tamil Nadu over the encounter deaths and widespread criticism across the country, Chief Minister Naidu held a meeting with his Deputy Nimmakayala China Rajappa, Forest Minister Gopalakrishna Reddy, Chief Secretary IYR Krishna Rao, DGP JV Ramudu and State Advocate General at his chambers in the secretariat.
According to sources, during the meeting, Naidu felt that the incident had put the State government in a tight spot as the “number of deaths” attracted national attention. Hence, he asked the police boss to dig into the criminal past of the 20 deceased persons in the encounter and make their “involvement in smuggling” public to silence the critics.
During the meeting, Naidu discussed with the advocate general the State government’s version to be submitted to the Supreme Court, National Human Rights Commission and Hyderabad High court.
Sources said the Chief Minister was upset with the way the encounter attracted the national attention and the way various petitions were filed in NHRC and various Courts, seeking a high-level probe into the incident.
“The Chief Minister looked much worried today. As the encounter might be useful for the political parties in poll-bound Tamil Nadu to rake up Tamil sentiment, which might pose a threat to the relationship between AP and TN,” said a source.
After the meeting, Deputy Chief Minister China Rajappa, who also holds the Home department, said the question of paying compensation to the families of the victims did not arise as they were all killed when they were attacking forest officials. He said the government had ordered a magisterial enquiry into the incident. “We will initiate action once the report is submitted by the magistrate.”
He further disclosed that CM Naidu would send a written reply to his TN counterpart’s letter over the encounter.
“Soon, Naidu will write to TN CM Panneerselvam on how the encounter had happened. Naidu will also explain how smugglers were taking away the precious red sanders causing a dent in the cash-starved AP’s coffers,” he said.
The Deputy CM further added that the government would file affidavits explaining about the circumstances that led to the encounter before NHRC and various Courts very soon.
Cong, YSRC Shielding Sanders Smugglers: Prathipati
Hyderabad: Defending alleged encounter in the Seshachalam Forest at the foot of the Tirumala Hills, in which 20 woodcutters from neighbouring Tamil Nadu were killed on Tuesday, Andhra Pradesh government, accused opposition parties of raking the issue for political mileage. Speaking on behalf of the State government, Agriculture Minister Prathipati Pulla Rao here on Thursday said the police had acted as per the situation and finding fault with them was not correct for anybody.
“Leaders of the Congress and the YSRC have been patronising red sanders’ smugglers and now when the TDP government is trying to control them these parties are raising a hue and cry,” he thundered. Finding fault with the Congress and the YSRC for raking up the issue, the agriculture minister said in the past when forest officials were killed by red sanders smugglers these parties had never condemned the act and now for political mileage were shedding crocodile tears. “These parties have been protecting red sanders’ smugglers. They have no right to criticise TDP government. Whatever the government is doing, it is to save the natural resources of the State,” he said.
Coming down heavily on the YSRC chief YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and APCC chief N Raghuveera Reddy for opposing Pattiseema Lift Irrigation Project, Pulla Rao said both of them were unnecessarily making the project an issue and misleading people. “Both of them are opposing Pattiseema project for political reason. They don’t want to give water to people of Rayalaseema,” he alleged. He said the Congress had looted the State in the last 10-year and now when TDP government was trying to set thing right it was trying to create problems.