Five bodies were found in the Vontimitta Lake, on the outskirts of Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh, on Sunday afternoon. Police said while they appeared to be red sandalwood smugglers, they did not know how they ended up in the lake.
According to the police, backpacks containing axes, torches and food were found nearby. One body was found to be still carrying a backpack.
Kadapa SP A Babujee said there were no signs of external injuries on the bodies. “They appear to be between 35-40 years old, and not students as initially thought. They are suspected to be red sanders smugglers. The lake is about 1 km from the nearest habitation and is near the Palakonda and Seshachalam forest area which is known for red sanders and smuggling. How they ended up in the lake is a mystery,’’ he said.
The lake is near a highway, and the bodies were first noticed by shepherds. “Only a post-mortem will reveal whether they drowned in the lake or they were killed somewhere and dumped here,’’ said SP Babujee.
All the bodies are in a highly decomposed state.
The Andhra Pradesh Police’s Red Sanders Anti-Smuggling Task Force has recently intensified combing operations in the Seshachalam forest area, where smuggling has again started after a brief lull. Smugglers are reported to be entering the forests using hitherto unknown routes via Kadapa.
On Friday night, there was a skirmish between Task Force personnel and red sanders smugglers in the Seshachalam forest near Tirupati. According to sources, the Task Force team had tracked down smugglers and woodcutters inside the forest. When confronted, they attacked the Task Force team with stones and sticks. The team then reportedly fired one round in the air to disperse the smugglers. Five were arrested while the rest fled.
For several days now, the Task Force and Kadapa Police have been conducting checks on the Kadapa-Renigunta-Chennai NH-716. The Vontimitta lake is beside this highway, 25 km from Kadapa.
DIG M Kantha Rao, chief of the Task Force, said they had not conducted any combing operation in Kadapa area recently. “This lake is almost 100 km away from our area of operations. As far as I know, we did not conduct any combing towards Kadapa side in recent days,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, the AP Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee has demanded that the post-mortem of the bodies should be conducted in the presence of independent witnesses, and the proceedings videographed.