Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao should immediately throw Koneru Krishna out of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS).
The newly appointed Zilla Parishad Vice Chairman of Asifabad was caught on camera assaulting and leading the mob against Ch. Anitha, the forest range officer of Kagazhnagar in Sarsala village. This was when the officer in uniform was in the process of undertaking ploughing work in degraded forest land. This was as part of the afforestation that was planned under the Kaleshwaram project, the chief minister’s pet irrigation project. Even as she is lying injured at the medical centre, writhing and crying out in pain, Anitha says the MLA’s brother assaulted her.
In a note, the forest department has alleged that the Sirpur MLA Koneru Konappa, who happens to be Krishna’s brother, had “malafide intention to occupy the reserve forest land”.
KCR should order an inquiry into the MLA’s role immediately and ask the Forest department to furnish evidence. For those unfamiliar with Konappa, he was elected on the Congress ticket in 2004 and on the BSP ticket in 2014. Konappa thereafter joined the TRS and was elected on the TRS ticket in 2018.
[Update] : The TRS Working President KT Rama Rao condemned the incident and also ensured Koneru Krishna resigned as Zilla Parishad VC. But Krishna was anything but apologetic. He in fact, wrote he was resigned in protest against the behaviour of the forest officers. The Telangana DGP also suspended the SDPO and Circle Inspector for not acting on time.]
That trouble was brewing was known to everyone in the district. For the past ten days since the forest department announced it will take up compensatory afforestation in the degraded forest land, tension was in the air.
Which is why Anitha had asked the district SP and collector for police protection. There were 60 men in uniform accompanying Anitha – 30 from the district police and 30 from the forest department – despite which she was attacked. And it was not even a situation where the forest guards and cops were outnumbered by the mob.
Why didn’t the police which was armed, fire in the air, to scare away the mob?
“That is something we will need to find out,” says Malla Reddy, SP of Asifabad district. “But if they had done so, it would have been disproportionate. As soon as the forest officer was assaulted, she was rescued and taken away for medical aid.”
The police have arrested 16 people, including Koneru Krishna. The others are villagers though some of them are followers of the Koneru brothers and thereby associated with the TRS.
Koneru Konappa and Krishna have a reputation for crossing swords with district officials. In March 2018, Konappa allegedly abused Excise circle inspector, Mangamma after she obstructed a truck carrying black jaggery. Konappa reportedly wanted Mangamma to release the vehicle. At that time, the officials had complained to the chief minister and chief secretary but were dismayed when he was given the ruling party ticket again to contest the elections in December 2018.
Konappa denies his brother had anything to do with the attack and insists Krishna was there to pacify the locals not to take law into their own hands.
Krishna told a Telugu TV news channel that he did not attack any officer but found fault with them trying to uproot the crop planted by the villagers. Giving the incident a political colour, he alleged that the tractor belonged to a Congress activist.
But the Congress has demanded that the TRS issue an apology to the officer, suspend Krishna and also take action against the policemen who were standing there as mute witnesses.
The episode has raised several disturbing questions and the government will need to address them as soon as possible.
Did lack of action in the previous case embolden the Koneru brothers to take the law into their own hands? The brazenness with which they attacked a woman in uniform is shocking. It showed that when led by the men in white, there is no fear of the khaki uniform.
The visuals from the spot show many of the cops and the forest guards were silent bystanders. They seem more engrossed in witnessing the assault and recording it for posterity and record rather than trying to control the situation.
If there was a difference of opinion between the villagers and the forest department regarding the ownership of the land, why didn’t the district administration resolve it before giving the go-ahead to the afforestation programme. Locals suggest that some villagers were cultivating the forest land for some years now and took umbrage when the forest department came to claim its area.
During the monsoon season, the government of Telangana undertakes the Haritha Haaram programme, a massive sapling plantation drive. If this is the real attitude of the TRS public representatives towards the green drive, it only gives it a bad name, showing it as a sham.
In Andhra Pradesh, a similar incident involving an officer and a ruling party legislator had sparked outrage in 2015. Musunuru MRO Vanajakshi was attacked by supporters of Telugu Desam MLA Ch. Prabhakar when she tried to prevent sand mining and smuggling. It became an issue with then Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu forced to order a probe. Jaganmohan Reddy referred to it last week during his conference with district collectors and police chiefs, saying such incidents are a blot on the police force if they fail to prevent them and act on it immediately.