TELUGU   -   Sixteen men have been arrested after a female forest official was brutally beaten with sticks by a mob as police officers watched in the southern Indian state of Telangana.

The mob, led by a member of the state’s ruling party, was protesting against a tree plantation drive on Sunday.

A video of the incident has gone viral, and the party has condemned the attack on Twitter. The forest officer is being treated in hospital for severe injuries.

A video of the incident shows the mob attacking the officer with bamboo sticks, as she stands on a tractor and tries to placate them.

She is repeatedly hit with the sticks until forest officials and local police step in to disperse the mob and contain the attack. The footage has gone viral in India and led to outrage across the country.

This prompted a high-ranking official of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) party, Kalvakuntla Taraka Rama Rao, to condemn the incident on Twitter.

I strongly condemn the atrocious behaviour of Koneru Krishna who attacked a forest officer who was doing her job. He has been arrested & a case booked already; no one is above law of the land. The leader of the mob has been identified as Koneru Krishna Rao, a local official who is the brother of a TRS lawmaker. The party confirmed that he has also been arrested. In his defence, Mr Rao told local media that he was trying to “ensure justice for tribal farmers as forest officials were destroying their crops”.

“The forest department is terrorising tribal farmers and confiscating their land forcefully”, he alleged, adding that the attack was “accidental”. Two police officers, who were at the scene at the time of the attack, have been suspended for failing to protect the officer, BBC Telugu confirmed.

The incident occurred in the town of Kagaznagar, where the state’s forest department has been authorised to carry out a plantation drive as part of the Kaleshwaram project - a large irrigation scheme, which was inaugurated last week. Opposition parties in the state, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress party, have strongly condemned the attack.