A woman Forest Range Officer (FRO) was hospitalised with a hairline fracture after she was beaten up by a group, allegedly including Koneru Krishna Rao, the brother of Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) MLA Koneru Konappa, on Sunday morning, during a plantation drive in Komaram Bheem Asifabad district. Other forest staff who were part of the team were also beaten up.
FRO C Anita tried to save herself by climbing onto a tractor but videos of the incident showed the crowd, including Rao, following her and assaulting her with a stick, hitting her several times on the head. Anita fell unconscious and was rushed to hospital, where she was diagnosed with a hairline fracture in her right wrist.
P Malla Reddy told The Indian Express that several cases have been registered against Rao. “We have arrested him and Bora Posham (seen in the video) who beat up the FRO with sticks and also 14 villagers who participated in the attack. We have booked them under unbailable sections of the IPC.”
After Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao expressed his displeasure to Konappa over his brother’s behaviour, Rao resigned as vice-chairman of the Komaram Bheem Asifabad zilla parishad.
Speaking to The Indian Express from hospital, Anita, who was in shock and broke down, said, “I was singled out by four-five men, including Krishna Rao, and beaten up with sticks. It was a vicious attack, I got very scared.”
The forest officials accused police, which arrived at the spot a few minutes after the attack began, of not doing anything to stop the mob.
Officials said that Anita, 32, had gone to Sarasala village which falls under the Sirpur constituency of MLA Konappa to plant saplings as part of the ‘Haritha Haaram’ plantation drive of the Telangana government. The plantation drive was undertaken to compensate for the loss of green cover due to the multi-purpose lift irrigation Kaleswaram Project.
A team of 21 Forest Department personnel, including Anita, were plouging and planting saplings with the help of tractors on a reserve forest land identified on the outskirts of the village, when some people objected. The villagers claimed it was their land and attacked the officials with sticks and iron rods. Some of them called up Rao, who lives nearby and who soon arrived with his supporters.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests P K Jha ordered an inquiry and demanded that the state government provide police protection to forest officials on afforestation drives. “That is forest land where our staff was attacked. Even Sirpur MLA Koneru Konappa knew about our afforestation drive. I don’t know why he chose not to inform the people and his brother who attacked our staff. The Forest Department had thwarted several attempts to encroach this piece of land by villagers in the past five years,” Jha said.
Divisional Forest Officer (Komaram Bheem Asifabad) Laxman Naik said, “Without even asking why forest officials were there, the villagers and Krishna Rao launched a brutal assault on them. Without even considering that the FRO is a woman, the men armed with stick and rods surrounded her and beat her up. The officials had gone there to plant saplings on forest land, it is government land.”
Naik added that they had taken up afforestation in 20 hectares of land in connection with the Kaleswaram Project. “Koneru Krishna Rao and others arrived with the intention of illegally occupying the land, and attacked our staff.”
Local strongmen, Rao and brother Konappa have been accused of assaulting government officials earlier too, besides frequent run-ins with them. In March 2018, Excise Department officials in Kagaznagar-Sirpur had staged a demonstration after Konappa allegedly abused a woman excise circle inspector for confiscating a truck.
Working President of TRS K T Rama Rao condemned the attack and said no one was above the law. “Atrocious behavious by Koneru Krishna who attacked a forest officer who was doing her job. I condemn it strongly,” KTR said.
Anita is well regarded as a forest officer, and was felicitated two years ago by the department for her afforestation work in Chennur mandal. Her colleagues said she had handled several situations like Sunday’s and was known to never lose her cool. “When she was in Chennur, she handled many explosive situations where villagers cultivating illegally on forest land for decades confronted her during afforestation drives. She would talk to them calmly and explain why afforestation was necessary. In spite of heated arguments, she used to prevail upon them. I think today the situation became political and someone instigated the villagers,” Giasuddin, a former colleague of Anita, said.
Anita’s husband C Manik Rao said he quit his job as an interior designer to take care of their son seeing Anita’s devotion to her work. “I understood she won’t be able to do justice to her passion and also take care of home. So I decided to quit my job and take care of our son and home while she pursues what she loves most,” Manik Rao said.
Anita told The Indian Express she was determined to finish the plantation drive at Sarasala. “I will go back to that village and finish planting trees at the very spot where I was attacked. There is no question of backing out… In fact, I now take it up as a challenge. Let’s see who stops me now.”