On 7 April 2015 at early morning Andhra Pradesh police killed 20 red sandalwood labourers in the name ‘encounter’ at Sheshachalam forest area. According to police version, nearly 300 sandalwood labourers with red sandalwoods are found in ‘Chikatigala Kona and SacchinOdibanDa’ areas in Sheshachalam forest. The police warned the labourers but they attacked on police with their ‘sophisticated and dangerous’ weapons such as ‘axes and stones’. The police started firing to protect their lives from labourers attack. In that ‘war’ 20 labourers were killed in 20 miters range. Beside each labourer body, there is sandalwood, their shirt and footwear. Nobody is injured and arrested in hundreds of labourers even sandalwood did not recovered from other labourers those who escaped from the spot. This is the police narration of their ‘encounter’ story. It’s not a big puzzle to understand what happened in the Sheshachalam forest. Actually police killed 20 red sandalwood labourers with a strategy according to the rulers’ direction. The police did not have the courage and honesty to admit the truth that they did it. Because they thought it’s a best way to create fear among the sandalwood labourers to prevent sandalwood smuggling. The police and rulers want to cover their murderous act with a silly story. Their story may useful to the comedian cinema directors those who make comedy films based on nonsense scripts.
Along with encounter story the police and rulers revealed some issues relating the red sandalwood smuggling. Those issues are that they arrested nearly 4000 sandal labouers and made propaganda in the village to create awareness about the ban on red sandalwood cutting. But they did not prevent the sandalwood cutting. Even some times they faced attacks by the labourers. But the arrested 4000 people are all belonged to labourers. The people who took the labourers for sandalwood cutting, who transport the sandalwood, who sell it in the international market, the officials who cooperate to the smuggling, the political leaders who protect the smugglers never arrested. These people did not get punishment. Only the labourers punished and put in jails those who came for this work to get some income for their families’ survival. Killing the sandalwood labourers is not the solution. It did not prevent smuggling. Actually the rulers did not have the commitment to eradicate the smuggling. If they have the commitment they would appoint efficient and honest officials and involve community in this operation. These officials would take stringent actions on smugglers including government officials and political leaders those who support and protect the smuggling. The sandalwood smuggling has been running for decades. Government has the information about smugglers, supporting officials and involving political leaders. The rulers would put vigilance in all ways in & out from the forest. The smugglers are not selling the sandalwood beside Sheshachalam forest area villages and the sandalwood is not small item like safety pin. They are selling sandalwood and that too they are transporting the wood to other countries through ships and flights. If Tamil Nadu is supporting to this smuggling activity, the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister (CM) can discuss with the Tamil Nadu state CM and request to cooperate to end sandalwood smuggling. If the AP government did not get proper response from TN government it can put this issue before the center. AP rulers did not work in this way. Basically they did not have sufficient commitment to end the red sandalwood smuggling. This is the cause behind their inefficiency to prevent the smuggling.
For the decades red sandalwood cutting is happening in Sheshachalam forest in Andhra Pradesh. Even nearby forest villagers used to cut the sandalwood to prepare home need material. The smuggling also has been happening for decades. In 2000 the government banned the sandalwood cutting and smuggling. Recently the sandalwood price has increased in the international market. Now in the international market one tone sandalwood price range Rs. 30 Lakh to 70 Lakh based on the quality of the wood. Last year AP government sold 4500 ton sandalwood for Rs. 1000 Crore and there are 8500 ton sandalwood reserves which were collected from the smugglers. AP government wants to sell this wood and it is eager to sell and earn money for the new capital city construction.
The rulers want to prevent red sandalwood smuggling. But they choose easy way to prevent the sandalwood smuggling by creating fear among labourers with encounter killings. The poor people became target to the rulers. These labourers are those who did not have sufficient livelihoods for survival and forced to take the sandalwood cutting work as a livelihood for their families survival became the easy target. The tragedy is that this poor people attracted by the smuggling agents’ promises like they can get Rs. 5000 to Rs. 6000 per day per labourer. The agents told lies to the labourers that it would not illegal activity and government permitted the sandalwood cutting. Government propaganda which tried to explain the punishment for the sandalwood cutting did not attracted as agents’ offers and lies. The rulers never cared about the poverty situation situation of the labourers.
The rulers thought that if they kill some labourers to prevent wood smuggling their families cannot create many problems. The supporting organizations and parties cannot do prolonged struggle to punish the culprits. Media can protect them. Some section of middle class can support to the rulers. These people also think that killing the wood cutters is the best way to prevent sandalwood smuggling. Instead of asking to kill officials and political leaders those who involve in the wood smuggling. These people may be fear to ask to kill involved officials and political leaders. It’s easy to ask to kill sandalwood labourers. Rulers did not respect the Constitutional rights, courts and judiciary system. They like more repressive method than democratic methods. They have to pretend as democratic rulers. So they project that they respect the judiciary system and legal mechanism. Police always ready to deal the poor with their method. Ultimately rulers and police found the best way to prevent red sandalwood smuggling by killing 20 labourers. It never eradicate the smuggling but it crated unimaginable tragedy to the poor families for lifelong.
T. Venkateshwarlu is a Telangana based activist associated with New Socialist Initiative (NSI).