HYDERABAD — A magisterial inquiry has been ordered by the Chittoor District Collector into the "police encounter" in which 20 alleged red sanders smugglers were shot dead in Seshachalam hill ranges in Andhra Pradesh.
"The Additional District Magistrate, who is also the District Revenue Officer (DRO), has been asked to inquire into the entire events and submit a report to me. It will be subsequentally submitted to the government," Chittoor District Collector Siddharth Jain said.
"The report will go into details and reasons for the police opening fire and whether the situation warranted it," Jain said, adding the DRO has been asked to inquire into the matter and submit the report at the earliest.
Twenty alleged red sanders smugglers were killed in a heavy exchange of fire after they allegedly attacked the police early morning today in Andhra Pradesh's Chittoor district.
Six police personnel were injured in the attack by the smugglers.
Meanwhile, after protests and reported stonepelting on Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) buses APSRTC buses in Tamil Nadu, senior APSTRC officials said that the matter came up for discussion.
"They are yet to take a call on cancelling APSRTC bus services to Tamil Nadu," they said.
"We have not yet decided about cancelling any services as of now but may consider it tomorrow morning depending on the situation. The Hyderabad-Chennai bus has already left and once it reaches Nellore (in AP), we may take a call," an APSRTC spokesperson said.
APSRTC operates around 35 buses to Chennai and other destinations in Tamil Nadu.
NHRC Issues Notices
National Human Rights Commission member Justice D. Murugesan observed that the incident involved a serious violation of human rights of the individuals and the opening of firing cannot be justified on the ground of self defence since it resulted in the loss of lives of 20 persons.
Accordingly, notices have been issued to the chief secretary and the DGP of Andhra Pradesh calling for report explaining the act of police and forest officials within two weeks. The matter shall be taken up for hearing in the camp sitting of the commission to be held at Hyderabad on April 23.
The commission has also noted that this incident has taken place at a time when a similar incident was reported from the bordering districts of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in the month of December, 2014 wherein Andhra Pradesh forest officials were seen physically torturing and assaulting a man in a naked position and reports are awaited from concerned authorities and the issue is under consideration of the commission.
People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) condemned the incident and demanded immediate registering of an FIR, including charges of murder, against the officials concerned.
"It's a misnomer to call this (as) an encounter, for in reality what has happened is a massacre of people alleged to have been involved in illegal felling," said PUCL National General Secretary Dr V Suresh.
Stating that illegal felling of red sanders trees had been going on for many years in Chittoor district, he said such a huge (smuggling) trade could not have happened without the active collusion and involvement of officials of the Departments of Forest, Police and Revenue.
He said FIR should be registered under charges of murder and a conspiracy to murder among others.
Suresh said "not even a twig" can be removed without the Forest department knowing about it.
TN Parties Condemn Action
Parties in Tamil Nadu, including DMK, BJP, PMK and CPI claimed that poor labourers from the state were among the victims and asked the Andhra Pradesh government to "pursue lawful means" to check red sanders smuggling.
Claiming that they were innocent labourers from Tamil Nadu who were lured with higher wages to forests in neighbouring Chittoor, NDA ally, PMK chief Ramadoss said their being shot down without even an inquiry was unacceptable.
Dismissing claims of Andhra Pradesh police that they opened fire in self-defence, he said "it was a plain lie" and demanded a probe by a sitting judge of Supreme Court besides seeking relief to those killed and action against police officials.
CPI leader D Raja expressed shock that the Andhra Pradesh police could resort to such brutal killings of "labourers" including those hailing from the neighbour state.
"Nobody can approve of such police action. This incident needs a thorough judicial probe and the family members of the victims should also be compensated," Raja told .
"We are in touch with our counterparts in Andhra Pradesh. We are verifying if 12 of those killed were labourers from Thiruvannamalai and Vellore Districts," a top Tamil Nadu police official said.
DMK chief Karunanidhi, in a statement said, governments of both the states should announce relief to the families of the labourers killed in the exchange of fire.
"Today's incident has happened as the states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have not found a solution to this issue, though such incidents (smuggling and encounters) keep happening for the past several months," he said.