Rehabilitated villagers battle cops, guards in Maharashtra jungle

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Rehabilitated villagers battle cops, guards in Maharashtra jungle

Nagpur: At least 65 policemen and forest guards were injured when they were attacked with stones, sticks and chilli powder by hundreds of relocated villagers in the Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR) jungles of Amravati in Maharashtra late on Tuesday, officials said on Wednesday.

The Maharashtra Forest Department and police rushed senior officials and additional forces to the area to control the situation that occurred in Gullaraghat village.

An official said that after a large number of villagers from Melghat were rehabilitated in Akot division by the government a few weeks ago, discontent had been simmering.

While the displaced villagers from Amona, Barukheda, Dhargad, Somthanakhun, Gullaraghat, Kelpani and Nagaratas were protesting and wanted to return to their roots, the police and forest guards sought to prevent them from entering the sensitive tiger zones.

On January 14, around 400-500 people from the villages in Akot division, allegedly instigated by local leaders, re-entered the MTR territories and illegally occupied the meadows inside the tiger sanctuary.

On Tuesday afternoon, around 100 policemen and 100 forest guards approached the villagers squatting in the meadows at Kelpani to negotiate and forward their demands to the higher authorities.

However, the villagers were in no mood to listen to them and started pelting stones at the police and forest guards. Some attacked them with axes, slings, sticks and even chilli powder.

In the free-for-all, at least 15 policemen and 50 forest guards were injured, including some like Dhargad Resident Forest Officer Sunil Wakode who sustained serious injuries on his head and limbs when he was attacked by an axe.

As the villagers also targeted 16 government vehicles including one belonging to Deputy Conservator of Forests T. Beula, several police and forest department vehicles, the police fired tear gas at the attackers and also clamped prohibitory orders in the region.

Late in the evening, the villagers set fire to the lush green meadows in the vicinity and taking cover of the flames and smoke escaped into the deep forests.

On Wednesday morning, the officials claimed that a huge area within the core of the sanctuary, which is the natural habitat of the tigers, was practically reduced to ashes.

However, police teams, guided by Amravati Superintendent of Police Dilip Zalke, managed to arrest a couple of attackers and detailed investigations are on.

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