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Early Sunday morning, Deputy Range Officer L Sridhar, Assistant Beat Officer David Kumar Karunakar and eight others were on a "regular patrol" of the Seshachalam forest area, in Tirupati in Chittoor district, when they received information that some red sanders smugglers were camping about two kilometres from a temple in the area.
"Sridhar and Karunakar took with them two smugglers who were arrested a day before to show them the exact location. There was no time to inform the police or wait for armed assistance,'' said Conservator of Forests (Tirupati, Wildlife) Ravi Kumar.
"As soon as they neared a wooded area where they heard some activity, they were ambushed by a group of 60-100 men armed with sickles, knives and daggers. They surrounded the forest patrol party and started pelting stones. Sridhar and Karunakar, who were leading the team, bore the brunt of the attack and suffered fatal head injuries. The remaining eight officials escaped with head and other injuries,'' said Kumar.
The post-mortem reports have revealed that the two officers were probably alive after being stoned, and were later axed by the smugglers. Sridhar, 49, had been working with the forest department for 22 years, while David, 47, had 20 years service. Sridhar is survived by his wife and two sons, while Karunakar is survived by his wife and two daughters.
The incident has raised questions about the state government's delay in arming its forest department. Last April, after several confrontations with red sanders smugglers in various forests of the state, the Andhra Pradesh forest department had proposed that small arms and rifles should be purchased for its officers. But for over a year, no action was taken. Finally, on September 17 this year, after another death of a forest officer in Nizamabad district, Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy ordered the purchase of 500 weapons for the department.