In a massive bust, the Andhra Pradesh police arrested over 80 labourers from Tamil Nadu on Friday, who were suspected to be hired as labourers to cut down red sanders trees in the state.
The police made the arrest at Anjaneyapuram, which is close to Tirupati and the Sesachalam forests, where the rare trees are found.
According to reports, officials intercepted a truck from Arcot in Tamil Nadu late in the night, based on a tip-off.
"We formed separate teams and waited for the woodcutters. At 1:30 am, we found the truck carrying them under a tarpaulin at Anjaneyapuram. It was first observed at Chandragiri by one of the four teams and subsequently, the other teams were alerted,” RSASTF SP Ravi Shankar told reporters.
The officials then opened up the back of the truck and found 84 labourers who were confined and cramped into the small place.
"Two of those arrested were college students pursuing post-graduation, and axes, bags of rice, vegetables and cooking vessels were seized from them,” the official added.
When questioned, the labourers reportedly said that the kingpin of their network had offered Rs 600 per kg of red sanders.
This is one of the largest raids by officials, who have stepped up their security since last month.
Earlier this week, an advocate filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Madras High Court, alleging that over 500 suspected woodcutters from Tamil Nadu were in the custody of the Andhra Pradesh police, after being detained illegally in 2017.
Alleging that the men had been detained without informing the TN government, the PIL asked the court to take appropriate action against 'erring officials' from Andhra.
Red sanders are indigenous to the Eastern Ghats in Andhra and grow mainly in the Seshachalam hill ranges spread across Chittoor and Kadapa districts in the Rayalaseema region.
The wood has a huge demand abroad, especially in China and Japan.
The Andhra government often seizes several tonnes of logs every year during combing operations by special forces in the forests.