On 30 June, the world watched with horror as a Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) politician and his supporters attacked Ch. Anitha, the forest range officer of Kagaznagar in Sarsala village. This was when Anitha was undertaking ploughing work in degraded forest land as part of the afforestation drive planned under the Kaleshwaram project, which is chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s pet project. The man who led the attack was Koneru Krishna Rao, the vice-chairman of Asifabad Zilla Parishad. His brother Koneru Konappa is the TRS MLA from Sirpur.
Following public outrage, Krishna Rao was suspended from the TRS and ordered to step down from his post. TRS Working President KT Rama Rao tweeted, expressing disapproval at the conduct of the leader.
But on October 1, he was reinstated as the Vice Chairman of the Zilla parishad. A week later, on 7 October, Raja Ramana Reddy, the forest divisional officer of Kagaznagar and Anitha’s boss, was transferred to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests office in Hyderabad in the Vigilance department. Anitha too has received oral orders that she has been transferred to Kadiam in Khanapur forest division in Nirmal district. Reddy’s transfer has been clubbed with three other transfers to make it appear a routine exercise.
T S Sudhir of Filter Kaapi spoke to both Raja Ramana Reddy and Anitha on how they viewed their transfers and the reinstatement of Koneru Krishna Rao.
Sudhir : Mr Reddy, you have been transferred from Kagaznagar to Hyderabad while Anitha, you have been moved to Nirmal district. Do you see any connection between what happened on 30 June and the transfer?
Ramana Reddy : Of course, yes. This has been done under political pressure. It was expected especially after the CM himself gave the accused and his brother, who is the MLA, a clean chit. There has been no support from the department. We are only receiving threats. I wonder why should we even work here.
Anitha : I have not yet been given written orders but it has been conveyed orally that I have been transferred as well. I was expecting it after that incident. I said so that time itself. Any officer who dares to go against the political bosses here will be transferred out. Everything is done politically.
Sudhir : Both of you sound very despondent, frustrated and angry. Have you felt a danger in the last three months?
Ramana Reddy : After a threat perception was noticed, protection was given both to me and to Anitha after the incident. Two guards are posted with me and one with Anitha. But we can notice constant attempts to instigate common people against the forest officers, provoke them. I have been told there would be attempts to throw chilly powder on me or beat me up when I step out of home. So I am avoiding going out as much as possible. There is attempt to create fear and intimidate us.
Anitha : There is also an attempt to harass with fake calls. We receive calls that at some place, there is some encroachment happening or some poaching and then we rush there, only to find the information was false.
Sudhir : The entire issue was because the locals resisted attempts by the forest staff to undertake a plantation drive in degraded forest land. It is quite obvious that the stakes are high for all those who are involved.
Ramana Reddy : In Kagaznagar, for the last 40 years, smuggling of valuable teak timber, poaching and encroachment is rampant. 45000 acres of forest land have been encroached upon, 40000 acres of that by non-tribals. Over a period of time, we managed to take back 10000 acres from the encroachers and that is what led to the June 30 violence. Once our land is gone, taken over illegally, what will we do? These non-tribals with political backing mischievously propagate that we are taking land from the tribals whereas we have not even touched the 5000 acres taken over by the tribals.
Sudhir : Is there regret that June 30, where you knew your move could provoke such a violent reaction, could have been handled differently, a bit more tactfully?
Anitha : I did no wrong. I did my duty. They are one who committed the mistake.
Sudhir : The Telangana Forest minister Indrakaran Reddy, who also belongs to the undivided Adilabad district, met you (Anitha) at your home. It was understood that the government would stand by its officer after that public photo-op. Are you then surprised at this transfer order?
Anitha : The minister came and spoke well. But what can he do?
Sudhir : When are you taking over charge in your new post?
Ramana Reddy : I will be handing over charge today. I and my officers made 100 per cent efforts to ensure zero smuggling, zero poaching and zero encroachment. After all, Jungle bharo, Jungle bachao is our government’s slogan. I only ask why transfer us when we only did our duty.