Kothagudem: The Bhadradri-Kothagudem police registered criminal charges against 11 villagers of Dummugudem for attacking three on-duty forest officials. The villagers allegedly tied the officials, including one woman official, to trees and beat them using sticks when the officials tried to inspect an alleged encroached forest land on Monday. All three report to the Kothegudem district forest department.

Speaking to NewsMeter, Sunil Dutt, superintendent of police said, "Primary investigation found that the villagers attacked the officials thinking that they were trying to take back encroached forest land. A case of obstructing government officials on duty, unlawful assembly, and voluntarily causing hurt using weapons, has been booked against the people involved and the probe is on."

This is not a standalone case. Five years ago, a forest range officer, Gangadhar, was beaten to death by villagers. The officer, who was on night inspection in the interior Nizamabad district, was attacked by villagers, and later succumbed to injuries.

Similarly, in 2019, Kagaznagar forest officer Chole Anitha and her staff were attacked with bamboo sticks by Zilla Parishad vice-chairperson Koneru Krishna, brother to TRS Sirpur MLA Koneru Konappa and his supporters at Sarasala village in Kumram Bheem Asifabad district.

Speaking of the various difficulties faced by the forest range officers on duty, a source said, "The problem lies with the large size of the population and considerably less forest area resulting in rapid encroachment. There are two types of land - one under the control of the forest department and another under the state revenue department. The government under different schemes has allocated revenue land to the landless as per need. A large extent of the pattadar land has been exhausted with these schemes. Hence, people have begun to encroach upon the forest land."

The source further added, "Another problem is that tribals from neighbouring states like Chhattisgarh make inroads into Telangana and occupy government forest land. The modus operandi is that they initially clear a narrow patch and set up a hut and begin a habitat. Later, others join in. When the land is inspected, the community engages a lawyer and moves the court. Forest officials have to face such legal battles on a daily basis by making rounds to the court and ground inspections. In addition to that local politicians tend to favour these encroachers."

Many incidents have proven that once the land is encroached upon, it takes years for the department to reclaim it. According to the current statistics, every unarmed forest officer guards 5,000 to 8,000 acres of land. It is pertinent to note that the erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh government four decades ago ordered forest range officials to deposit their arms at their police stations. The only ammunition they are allowed now is a bamboo stick, the source added.

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