VELLORE: A gang of red sander smugglers felled seven red sander trees inside the Punganur Reserve Forest (RF) and smuggled out around 400 kg of logs after tying a forester and a forest watcher. The gang with more than 40 members, discreetly entered the 1981-1985 red sander plantation in Punganur RF in Arcot Range around 11.30 pm on Wednesday.
They circled forester Saravanan (44) and temporary forest watcher Chandran (38), who were engaged in night duty at the red sander protection point, overpowered them and gagged and tied the two. “They were held captive for five hours. The gang pasted duct tape on their mouths. Four of the gang members were guarding them while the others were felling the red sander trees,” said a senior officer of the Forest Department. The Forest Department officials surmised the smugglers’ attack as a revenge to retaliate the arrest of their associates Babu of Thimmapettai and Gunasekaran of Mottur near Vaniyambadi three days ago. They were caught in Magimandalam RF on Chittoor-Vellore border, when they had tried to smuggle 257 kg of sanders. However, Sankar, a habitual offender, managed to escape that day.
“We believe that Sankar is behind the gang,” said an official and added that they even tried to murder the duo. However, Saravanan pleaded them to spare them.
“The gang wanted to spread fear among the department so that they can carry out illegal activities without any hindrance,” said Arcot Forest Ranger M Vijay.Nonetheless, the gang left the forest area around 4.30 am on Thursday with the trunk portion of three trees. The smuggled logs are worth around `4 lakh, said the official. “Before leaving, they beat the forester and watcher badly. They also robbed `10,500 from the forester and cell phones from them,” the ranger added.
The duo later managed to remove the duct tape and raised an alarm. A few persons of watchmen quarters of the tanneries on the fringe of the forest area untied them. Saravanan soon alerted their officials.
District Forest Officer of Vellore H Raja Mohan and his team rushed to the place and conducted an inquiry. The Forest Department also filed a complaint with Arcot Town Station. “We got some vital clue about the gang. We have provided the information to the police to nab them,” said Raja Mohan.
Two special teams were constituted to nab the gang.