Hyderabad, Jan 14 :
Crores of rupees changed hands as defying the police ban, people in parts of Andhra Pradesh bet on cockfights as part of Sankranti festival.
Despite the ban, cockfights were organised openly in villages in some districts, mainly in the coastal Andhra region.
Powerful politicians of all hues, celebrities and businessmen, who consider the cockfights a part of culture of coastal Andhra, participate in the betting.
Thousands watched the cockfights organised in open grounds in villages in East Godavari, West Godavari and Krishna districts.
The officially banned cockfights continues to thrive with people’s representatives at district and village levels themselves organising it in many villages.
The state legislators were not only the invitees but some of them even inaugurated the “gambling sport”. T. Balaraju and former state minister Maganti Babu were among those who inaugurated the fights.
Last week, the Lokayukta had directed police in the coastal district to curb cockfighting and gambling during the festive season.
A large number of outsiders including politicians, businessmen and celebrities reach the villages to bet and watch the cockfights. Other betting games are also organised near the venues while liquor sellers make a fast buck.
People from Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam and Vijayawada visit the villages for the betting in Konaseema region of the coastal Andhra.
According to witnesses, large number of politicians this year bet on the cockfights in view of the ensuing parliamentary and assembly elections. An estimated Rs.70 crore were bet this year in coastal Andhra alone.
The cockfights are organised during the three-day festivities, which began Monday.
The fights between the specially bred and trained cocks are organised in fields as thousands watch them. Three to four inch knives are attached to the cocks’ legs and the fight continues till the death of one of the two cocks in each round.
Though police deny the permission for conduct of the fights, the organisers always have the last laugh thanks to the support from powerful politicians.
Every year, police seize specially bred cocks and money in different places but it continues to thrive due to political patronage.
The legislators say since the cockfights are part of the culture, they have to respect the people’s sentiments to get votes.
Police in Krishna district Monday arrested 95 people for organising cock-fights, seized Rs.3.68 lakh cash, 55 roosters and 29 two-wheelers.
District police officials said they arrested about about 650 organisers and people connected to it on precautionary grounds till late Sunday night.