The Tamil Nadu government on Saturday sought the Centre’s intervention in the release of 32 suspected to be red sander woodcutters from Tamil Nadu who were arrested by Andhra Pradesh police on Friday, with Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa describing them as “innocent”.
The 32 persons hail from Chennai, Tiruvannamalai and Vellore districts in Tamil Nadu, she told Prime Minister Narendra Modi, adding that they were reportedly travelling to Tirupati by Garudadri Express when they were arrested by the Andhra Pradesh Police at Renigunta Railway Station.
They were arrested in a joint operation by police and Red Sanders Anti-Smuggling Taskforce personnel at Venkatapuram near Renigunta in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, when the group was “about to venture” into deep forest of Seshachalam for cutting red sanders, they said.
A total of 22 mobile phones, 21 axes and 10 bags of rice were seized from their possession.
The task force personnel have been cracking down on illegal felling of the red sanders, which is in demand in East Asian nations, for making furniture, musical instruments and traditional medicines, in the Seshachalam forests.
However, Jayalalithaa claims that the people arrested are innocent. “They had been charged under different sections of IPC and the Andhra Pradesh Forest Act,1967 and remanded to custody and lodged in Chittoor Jail, she told Modi in a letter.”These persons, who were only passengers in a train have been arrested on the suspicion of alleged forest related offences. It is not clear how they have been accused of forest related offences when they were nowhere near the forest,” she said.
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“I request you to urgently intervene in the matter and facilitate their immediate release. I am also deputing two advocates of the Government of Tamil Nadu to liaise with your officers in securing the immediate release of the 32 innocent persons from Tamil Nadu,” Jayalalithaa said.