HYDERABAD: Despite growing protests in Tamil Nadu over the Seshachalam ‘encounter’, Andhra Pradesh government struck a defiant note on Thursday on announcing ex-gratia to the 20 slain woodcutters.
Much to the chagrin of the victims’ kin, AP Forest and Environment Minister Bojjala Gopalakrishna Reddy compared the 20 deceased, with slain sandalwood smuggler Veerappan. “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 asked.
He further added, “They (TN woodcutters) have not lost their lives for the sake of the country. They were shot down when they had tried to attack the forest officials and the security personnel. Do you think they had come to collect fodder?” Reddy, senior minister in the Cabinet and considered a close aide of Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, made these comments soon after a high-level meeting chaired by Naidu to take stock of the situation.
According to sources, Naidu, was worried that the incident had put the State government in a tight spot as the “number of deaths” had attracted national attention. Hence, he asked the police brass to dig into the criminal past of the 20 victims and make public their “involvement in smuggling” to silence the criticism. Naidu also discussed with the advocate general on the State government’s version to be submitted to the Supreme Court, National Human Rights Commission and AP High court.
Sources said the Chief Minister was upset with the way the encounter had 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 become a handle for political parties in poll-bound Tamil Nadu to rake up Tamil sentiment, posing a threat to the relationship between AP and TN,” sources said.
Deputy Chief Minister Chinna Rajappa said Naidu would send a written reply to his TN counterpart’s letter over the encounter.