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A martyr to the nation

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(The News Bureau)

Pandillapalli Srinivas, belonging to the Indian Forest Service was brutally murdered on 10th November, 1991 by the notorious sandalwood smuggler Veerappan. Srinivas was a young man who, without expectation of any reward, strove with singular determination for the betterment of our society by seeking to eradicate evil, never allowing himself to succumb to the temptations of compromise which could bring safety.

He worked endlessly for the prote

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tion of the living creatures that share this planet with us be they animals, trees or other, and what are regarded as lesser beings. He was a martyr to the nation and his bronze statue at Chickmangalur stands in testimony to the sacrifice of this young man who died upholding the values that dominated his life – honesty, simplicity, dedication to duty and the courage to stand by principles.

Srinivas was born to Ananta Rao and Jayalakshmi at Rajamundry in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, on September 12, 1954. He did his schooling and graduated from Government Arts College in Rajamundry. In 1976 completed his Masters in Life Sciences from Andhra University and secured a gold medal.

In the year 1979 he qualified for the Indian Forest Service and was allotted Karnataka Cadre. His first posting was as Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF) in Chamarajanagar of Mysore district in 1982. Srinivas was elevated to the post of Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF) Chamaraja

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anagar in 1983 and stayed there till 1987. As ACF he compiled a directory of all sandalwood smugglers and poachers operating in the area and procured and circulated photographs of these criminals.

He established and coordinated networks between the police and foresters, drew up strategies to curb the activities of smugglers and poachers and successfully isolated and cornered a large number of them. Srinivas was the first and only person to arrest Veerappan in 1986 while the SAARC Summit was in progress at Bangalore. Veerappan was brought to Budipadaga Forest Rest House in Chamarajanagar Division for interrogation.Based on the information gathered, Srinivas conducted many many raids in the gang’s hideouts in Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu.

When Srinivas was out on one of these raids Veerappan escaped from custody. An enquiry was ordered into this escape and some police officials were indicted. Although Srinivas was not at fault, he felt responsible and this probably explains the tenacity with which Srinivas pursued Veerappan when he could have taken up softer postings elsewhere.

In 1987, Srinivas was transferred as DCF at Chickmangalur and within few months of his transfer, Veerappan murdered Satyamangalam Range Forest Officer, Chidambaram. Srinivas rushed and assisted the local administration in investigating the case. He developed a network of informers against Veerappan in his native village Gopinatham. Veerappan, however brutally murdered the informants and hanged their heads as an example in the village.

The nefarious criminal also doled out part of his ill-gotten wealth amongst the villagers. His excellent knowledge of the terrain coupled with the silence of the villagers, out of fear enabled him to extend his activities.

Post 1989 Veerappan took up sandalwood smuggling in a big way in Mysore and Coorg districts of Karnataka and the adjoining areas of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. A Special Task Force was formed to tack

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le Veerappan and his activities. While the task force followed the methods of aggressively patrolling the forests and raiding hideouts, Srinivas adopted the unconventional strategy of building goodwill with people who helped Veerappan.

At Gopinatham, Veerappan’s village, Srinivas built a temple for the Goddess Mariamman, at the cost of Rs 3 lakhs raised through contributions. He provided drinking water to remote tribal villages in his jurisdiction, developed roads to inaccessible villages and obtained motor transport connections between these villages and nearby towns. He started a mobile dispensary for the people and even learnt basic medicine to assist in the dispensary.

At Chickmangalur, he planned and built a modern forest complex spread over 50 acres, comprising offices, official residences, a temple and private houses for foresters under a self financing scheme. He took up an ambitious tribal housing programme where he built 40 houses for the homeless people of Gopinatham village. He used his own salary and borrowed from friends and relatives to finance many of these humanitarian activities. He was an outstanding forest officer committed to his job and the people he served.

He raised the forest nurseries successfully in the deep forests by impounding available hill top water. He conducted afforestation drives, improved communication networks and set up high altitude watch towers. He understood that forest development and tribal development are intrinsically related. Srinivas organized co-operatives to sell the minor forest produce collected by the villagers.

He provided livelihood to the villagers by employing them in forest nurseries and other developmental works to discourage them from destroying forest wealth and wildlife. Eligible people were identified and appointed as watchers and guards in the forest department. Veerappan’s gang members were also encouraged to avail of these employment opportunities. As a result of Srinivas efforts, public support base on which Veerappan thrived was eroded. Srinivas offered the gang members a rehabilitation package including legal justice if they would lay down their arms and cross over.

A major breakthrough was achieved in 1990 when many of the hardcore gang members surrendered before Srinivas. Veerappan’s gang dwindled from over 40 to a mere 8-10 members. Among those surrendered was Arjuna, the younger brother of Veerappan. When they were jailed, Srinivas personally engaged advocates on their behalf and got them released on bail.

The Last Encounter with Veerappan In July 1991, Srinivas’s tenure with the STF expired. He stopped getting his salary and the security provided to him was weakened but he stayed on as he felt that Veerappan’s surrender was imminent. On 09th November, 1991 he received a wireless message at MM Hills that Veerappan was ready to surrender if Srinivas met him unaccompanied and unarmed.

Without hesitation Srinivas set out alone the same night. He met Arjuna who had been missing for over a month, at Ponnuswamy Gounder’s Veerappan’s uncle house, stayed the night and left for the encounter in the morning. The last message received from him said, “We are hoping for the best. God will help us” Instead on November 10th 1991, 37 year old Srinivas was brutally shot while crossing a nullah 6 kilometers from Gopinatham village.

The State Government announced a reward of Rs 1 lakh and recommended him for the Presidential Gallantry Award. He was given a State funeral. On January 26, 1992, Srinivas was posthumously awarded the second highest peace time gallantry award the Kirti Chakra, received by his mother from the President of India at the Defence Investiture Ceremony held at Rashtrapathi Bhavan.

Rich tributes paid to forest martyrs

Rich tributes were paid to forest officials who laid down their lives while discharging their duties. In separate programmes held at Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad and Sree Venkateswara Zoological Park in Tirupati, forest departments of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh observed ‘Forest Martyrs Day’ on November 10.

This was the day when IFS officer, Pandillapalli Srinivas, was brutally killed by sandalwoodsmuggler Veerappan in the year 1991.

Since then, forest martyrs’ day is being observed to commemorate the sacrifices of forest officials. Srinivas was the first and only officer to arrest Veerappan in 1986 but the smuggler escaped later.

As many as 22 forest officials have been killed since 1982 by smugglers, land encroachers, wild animals or in accidents. The names of forest officers who lost their lives while on duty were read out, and tributes paid to them on the occasion.

Speaking on the occasion, forest minister Jogu Ramanna assured thathe would request chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao to grant ex-gratia to the forest officials killed in the line of duty.

If it is red sanders in the forests of Chittoor district of AP, it is teak and other types of wood which are eyed by smugglers in Telangana forests. Although other types of wood fetch lower profits than what red sanders would fetch, scores of trees in the forests are razed for the wood.

He also said they were studying the functioning of the forest departments in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and some other states to examine what can be done for better protection of forest staff in Telangana.

Speaking on the occasion, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, P K Sharma said wood worth Rs 10.79 crore has been recovered since 2014-15, while 1,927 vehicles used to smuggle the wood were seized and a fine of Rs 13.87 crore has been collected.

Paying tributes to forest officials who laid down their lives in the line of duty, Sharma said several measures have been taken to strengthen the department and to protect the forests and wild life.

As many as 144 base camps had been set up, while 62 strike forces formed and 57 checkposts were set up. Armed police units are providing assistance in preventing smuggling of wood, while 23 smugglers hadbeen booked under the provisions of PD Act, he said.

He further said that as many as 2,127 vehicles including 1993 two wheelers had been provided to forest officials for discharging their duties. Principal Secretary (environment and forests), Vikas Raj and other officials of the department were present on the occasion.

Speaking at the Forest Martyrs Day held in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh Forest Minister B Gopal Reddy said steps would be taken to protect the forests and wildlife by using modern technology and equipments. Drones would be used to protect forests and prevent anti-social activities bysmugglers.

The forest department has funds to the tune of Rs 1200 at its disposal for this purpose. Already, CCTV cameras had been installed in all important places that lead to the forests and 1500 kms long trench has been dug to prevent smuggling of red sanders besides preventing wild animals entering villages.

The minister paid floral tributes to the forest officials who laid down their lives in the line of duty and called upon the gathering to tread the path shown by the forest martyrs to protect the forests and wild life.

Among others who were present on the occasion include Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Andhra Pradesh), SBL Misra, Member of Parliament Siva Prasad, legislators Chevireddy Bhaskar Reddy, M Sugunamma, Y Srinivasulu Reddy, G Srinivasulu and several officials of the forest department.

Two forest officials of AP attain martyrdom

Two forest officials sacrificed their lives, while three others suffered serious injuries while fighting a group of red sanders smugglers in Seshachalam forests in the month of December 2013. A team comprising eight officials and guards came under attack near Thumburu Theertham, a water body in the deep forests. The smugglers carried out the attack with stones when the team was looking for their colleagues who had ventured into the forests. Deputy Range Officer Sridhar and Assistant Beat Officer David Kumar were killed in the gruesome attack, while three others – FBO Chandrasekhar, FRO Ramla Naik and FSO Ramana – were injured.

The attack sent shock waves among forest officials across the state compelling the administration to press police personnel to handle the situation. Despite this, the smuggling continued as the red sanders smuggling had international ramifications and influential persons were involved in it. However, police killed 20 wood cutters in Seshachalam forest in April 2015, following which red sanders smuggling has stopped for now.

The Unsung heroes of Forest Department

As many as 22 forest officials laid down their lives in the line of duty since 1982 in the state of Telangana.

Md. Akbar Ali, FSO, Kamareddy division, 11.03.1984

A group of extremists attacked Forest Section Officer, Md. Akbar Ali on March 11, 1984 with arms and brutally killed him in broad day light in his quarters in Ramareddy village after he refused to release a bullock cart he had seized earlier while smuggling illicit teak timber.

K Padma Rao, FBO, Karimnagar (E), 07.10.1984

Naxalites and smugglers in large numbers assaulted K Padma Rao, Forest Beat Officer of Karimnagar East on October 7, 1984 when he was on patrol duty. The assailants attacked him with axes killing him on the spot.

G Narsa Reddy, FRO, Nirmal, 30.01.1987

A group of naxalites attacked Nirmal Forest Range Officer, G Narsa Reddy, when he was in conversation with a group of villagers at Pembi after his field inspection on January 1, 1987. The naxalites shot at the forest official indiscriminately killing him instantly.

Solomon Raj, FBO, Kothagudem, 04.11.1987

On November 4, 1987, Kothagudem Forest Beat Officer, Solomon Raj was transporting seized timber on bullock carts to Yellandu for safe custody. However, some smugglers stopped him midway and brutally killed him, while two private persons assisting him sustained injuries.

Shaik Hyder, FBO, Jannaram, Warangal, 12.11.1988

Forest Beat Officer Shaik Hyder was camping at Jannaram village after receiving information about smugglers operating in the area. Even as he was keeping a watch on the suspects, the smugglers killed the FBO on November 12, 1988 and threw his body in a well in Indanpally village.

R Lakshminarayana, ABO, Kariminagar (W), 09.09.1996

Assistant Beat Officer of Karimnagar (W), R Lakshminarayana left his house and rushed to a place where illicitly cut team was being transported on a bullock-cart on September 9, 1996. The ABO was alone since it was an odd hour. Despite this, he ventured to seize the cart with the timber. However, the smugglers attacked the FBO with lathis and axes and inflicted grievous wounds. The forest official succumbed to his injuries after fighting for his life for 15 days.

Ch Narahari, FBO, Karimnagar (W), 29.03.1998

It was the Telugu New Year Day, Ugadi. On the night of March 29, 1998, Karimnagar (W) Forest Beat Officer, Ch Narahari seized a lorry at Metpally in which teak timber was being smuggled. The smugglers attacked him and his assistants with swords. While his team mates ran for safety, Narahari single handedly tried to apprehend the smugglers but was killed on the spot.

T Rana Pratap Singh, FSO, Achampet, WL, 27.06.1998

Forest Section Officer, T Rana Pratap Singh went into the dense forest along with some of his superiors and villagers in search of a human killer. However, a wild black bear attacked the group following which the FSO valiantly fought with the bear in an attempt to save others, but eventually he succumbed to the injuries.

P Rajamouli, FBO, Warangal (N), 29.07.2001

Forest Beat Officer of Warangal (N), P Rajamouli was on duty at the forest check post located very close to Eturunagaram police station in Warangal district on July 29, 2001. A group of naxalites attacked the police station and triggered huge blasts using tractors filled with explosives killing a few police personnel. Rajamouli suffered grievous wounds in the explosion and later succumbed to his injuries while undergoing treatment at hospital.

T Satyanarayana, FBO on contract basis, Nirmal, 29.03.2011

Forest Beat Officer of Nirmal, T Satyanarayana along with four assistants had gone to Lingapur along river Godavari on March 29, 2011 since he received information that teak timber was being smuggled on bullock carts. The smugglers, in an attempt to escape with the timber, attacked the FBO and his team with sticks inflicting serious head injuries following which the FBO lost his life.

B Somaiah, ABO, Bhadrachalam (South), 08.12.2012

Assistant Beat Officer of Bhadrachalam South, B Somaiah along with a private person assisting him, went to Regulapadu village at around 11 pm on November 9, 2012 as he received information about smuggling of timber. The smugglers attacked him with sticks and ropes inflicting grievous wounds. He was admitted to a hospital at Vijayawada, but succumbed to his injuries after fighting for life for over a month.

R Gangaiah, FRO, Kamareddy, 14.09.2013

Forest Range Officer of Kamareddy, R Gangaiah and his team went to Nallavelli village at around 11.30 pm on September 14, 2013 as he received information about the availability of tractors used in the illegal cultivation and encroachment of 20 hectares of forest land.

However, frenzied mob of the village damaged the jeep and attacked the range officer and his team with chilli powder, sticks, sickles and axes in which the FRO was killed on the spot.

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