Three suspected sandalwood thieves stoned to death

June 27th, 2008 - 9:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Jalna (Maharashtra), June 27 (IANS) In an act of vigilante justice, hundreds of villagers in this district of Marathwada stoned to death three suspected sandalwood thieves and seriously injured five others in the presence of the police. The people from half a dozen villages in the forested Bhokardan sub-district Wednesday also attacked a team of police personnel, injuring an inspector and three constables, and set on fire their vehicle in village Palaskheda, near here.

While the injured police personnel and suspected thieves have been hospitalised, Bhokardan police have arrested 53 people, including two local journalists, who allegedly instigated the mob to attack the “nonchalant thieves” and “compromised police”, sources said.

The incident occurred a week after persistent complaints from villagers about sandalwood thieves going on rampage in Viregaon, Ingewadi, Chorala, Masanpur, Walsa and Soygadevi villages, the sources added.

Alerted by a tip-off that about a dozen thieves were on way to Bhokardan from Kathora Bazar in a Bolero jeep, a hundred-odd villagers from Talni lay in ambush with a plan to intercept them, Bhokardan police station officer Salam Sheikh Hamid told IANS.

“Seeing the villagers’ mob from a distance, the occupants alighted from the jeep and tried to escape in the forest but the villagers chased and nabbed them,” said Hamid.

The police, who followed the mob, took the alleged thieves in their custody but the villagers encircled the police jeep in which they were herded, and demanded that they be handed over to them, he added.

“Police Inspector Ramesh Ghodke requested the villagers, whose numbers swelled in the meantime, not to take the law in their hands but they set the jeep on fire and severely beat up eight of the fleeing ‘thieves’. The police, who too were attacked, had to resort to cane-charge and the police inspector also fired in the air to disperse the unruly mob,” said Hamid.

While the police officer said that two newspaper correspondents, Nanasaheb Wankhede of “Parshvabhoomi” and Bhagwan Palkar of “Deshonnati” were instigating the mob to attack the alleged thieves, Deshonnati’s district correspondent Ankush Deshmukh said the two reached the spot after the incident.

Confirming that there were rumours about thieves running amuck in the region and that the police received a number of phone calls, district Superintendent of Police Sandip Karnik, however, said that there was no specific written complaint.

“The police made searches and accompanied the villagers in the night vigil as the rumours spread but no case of theft of any kind was detected anywhere,” said Karnik.

Karnik said the three dead - Jafarkhan Sherkhan, Bismillakhan Mehboobkhan and Ferozkhan Mehboobkhan - all hailing from Aurangabad district, have old offences of sandalwood thefts registered against them.

Hamid said the police responded to every single phone call and went out on search during day time and in the dead of night but drew a blank each time.

“I personally spent a few nights in the villages patrolling along with the villagers,” he said.

Deshmukh said that 14 sandalwood trees from his own farm were felled by the thieves.

“Sandalwood depredation has been going on in the area for several years and local papers have been reporting it”, he said adding, that a police posse sent from the district headquarters (Jalna) last year was chased away by a gang of thieves but there was no action after that.

“Kathora Bazar is a known centre of contraband sandalwood where traders from Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh come regularly for purchasing the stuff,” Deshmukh said.

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