Free Press Journal

Sandalwood smuggling encounter: HC directs preserving 6 bodies



Chennai: Tension prevailed as the next of kin of two of the 20 woodcutters alleged to be red sanders smugglers gunned down in Andhra Pradesh today staged protests in Tiruvannamalai district by placing the bodies on the road seeking justice as protests over the killings spilled over for the third day across the State. In a related development, the Madras High Court ordered that bodies of six of the woodcutters be preserved in a mortuary in Tiruvanamalai district till the matter is taken up tomorrow.

AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa also raised doubts over the genuiness of the “encounter” and urged Andhra Pradesh CM M Chandrababu Naidu to launch a fact-finding probe and initiate action based on that. She also announced a relief of Rs two lakh of the next of kin of those killed. Meanwhile, protests continued in some parts of the state for the third consecutive day today with tension gripping Padavedu in Tiruvannamalai district when relatives of slain Sasikumar and Murugan placed the bodies on road. They sought a probe and enhanced solatium.

A scuffle had broken out between police and relatives as they refused to take away the bodies for cremation. Twelve of the woodcutters hail from Tiruvanamalai district, seven from Dharmapuri and one from Salem. Red sanders or red sandalwood is a protected species of tree grown in at least four districts of Andhra Pradesh. The trees are in short supply and fetch thousands of dollars on the international black market.

Demand is high in countries such as China and Japan, where the wood is used to make furniture, musical instruments and even toys. The High Court directed preserving the bodies in a mortuary in Thiruvannamalai District Headquarters government hospital, 170 km from here, until tomorrow. The direction was in response to a petition by Muniammal of Polur of Thiruvannamalai District, wife of one of those killed, which came up for hearing before Justice M Sathyanarayanan.

Counsel for the petitioner K Balu submitted in court that apart from the bullet injuries, there were cut injuries also on the body of Sasikumar. He further contended that chemicals were also spread on the body. The judge said he would pass orders tomorrow on the petition.