Hyderabad: Forest department officials in India’s Telangana state have taken to the streets in protest, after the assault of a woman forest ranger.

The attack on the woman ranger, by a group led by a senior member of the state’s ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti, has triggered anger.

The striking officials also adopted a novel method to register their protest by going on an aggressive plantation campaign on all land on which supporters of TRS leaders were trying to encroach.

The forest department officials and uniformed guards also took out protest marches in Hyderabad, Kamareddy, Nalgonda and other places.

About 700 officials of forest department from various districts descended on Kaghaznagar on Monday and carried out a plantation drive on 20 hectares of land. They were joined by 300 policemen.

The drive went off smoothly.

Sources said that senior officials of the department had issued instructions to the forest officials from 12 districts to do the afforestation work.

The incident in Sarsa village, near the Kaghaznagar town of Kumram Bheem Asifabad district on Sunday, has also left the TRS government and the state police highly embarrassed as the forest range officer Chole Anitha was brutally beaten up in the presence of armed policemen.

The mob led by Zilla Parishad vice-chairman Koneru Krishna Rao, brother of local TRS MLA Koneru Konnappa attacked Anitha and other forest department employees when they arrived to begin planting on degraded forest land.

The group also damaged the tractor deployed to plough the land.

Even as the woman officer cried for help and pleaded that she was only implementing government orders, the mob led by Koneru Krishna continued to attack her and left her with a fractured hand and bleeding injuries.

Police later arrested Koneru Krishna and 16 others. While the officer and another employee were admitted to a hospital, state director-general of police Mahender Reddy ordered the suspension of deputy superintendent of police Kaghaznagar P. Sambaiah and circle inspector Venkatesh for failing to protect the official.

There were 30 policemen, some of them armed with AK-47 rifles, when the mob went on a rampage.

As the opposition went on an offensive against the government alleging that there was a “jungle rule” in the state, Koneru Krishna resigned from the TRS alleging that the forest department was harassing the people.

The government had decided to take up the plantation on the 20 hectares of land in lieu of forest area submerged in the Kaleshwaram irrigation project.

While the revenue department said that it was forest land, the TRS leader insisted that the land was being cultivated by the local people. Forest divisional officer Raja Ramana Reddy said that anticipating the trouble the department had alerted the district superintendent of police and the collector to provide security.

Reddy said that the locals were trying to encroach upon reserved forest land. A similar attempt six years ago was also foiled, he said.

Anitha who was shifted to the Krishna Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad blamed Koneru Krishna for the attack on her.

Leaders of Congress and opposition parties visited her in the hospital and strongly condemned the incident.

TRS working president K. Taraka Rama Rao strongly condemned the attack.

“I strongly condemn the atrocious behavior of Koneru Krishna who attacked a forest officer who was doing her job. He has been arrested and a case is booked already. No one is above the law of the land,” he said.