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Overcoming differences

Print edition : Nov 15, 1997

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The Tamil Nadu and Karnataka Governments must cooperate with each other to capture Veerappan.

THE decision of the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka Governments to resume joint operations of their Special Task Forces (STF) - on lines of their 1993 exercise - against Veerappan and his men, has, according to Karnataka police officials, come not a day too soon. In the words of a former commander of the Karnataka Special Task Force (KSTF) who spoke to Frontline , "We should have moved in against him long ago."

Veerappan's reluctance to surrender, even after the two Governments set a deadline, forced the two Governments to reactivate their forces. As part of the proposed offensive, police personnel have already been deployed on both sides of the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border - at Nellur, Dimbam, Bandipur, Gopinatham, Punajanur and Gundal.

Nakkheeran

Veerappan's latest demands, including the one that Rs.50 lakhs be given to his elder brother Madhayyan (who is in the Coimbatore prison for the murder of a forest department employee) for distribution among the people affected by the operations launched to arrest Veerappan, was rejected by the two Governments. A cassette containing these demands was sent to R.R. Gopal, editor of the Tamil weekly Nakkheeran, who in turn, forwarded it to Karunanidhi. In this context, it must be noted that Gopal's involvement continues to draw criticism in Karnataka.

Karnataka's contribution to the joint Special Task Forces has been to depute an Assistant Commissioner of Police, M. Muthuraya, and four inspectors - B.B. Ashok Kumar, N. Nagaraj, G. A. Bawa and Jai Maruthi - to work together with the Karnataka State Reverse Police (KSRP) battalion. Shankar Bidri, who spent 40 months as Commander of the KSTF, is also likely to be drafted. All the deputed personnel have considerable experience in anti-Veerappan operations.

In fact, the four inspectors deputed by Karnataka, had left for Bandipur (230 km from Bangalore) on October 21 itself to spearhead an operation against Veerappan after he abducted six people from the Bandipur Reserve Forest. However, their mission, which was to have started on October 26, was cut short after Veerappan released the hostages, and the two Governments, hoping that he would surrender, decided to hold fire.

In the run-up to the announcement about deploying the STFs, Karnataka, going by statements made by Minister of State for Home Roshan Baig, appeared to be keen on relaunching the operation. On the other hand, Tamil Nadu, it seemed, was until November 5 hoping that Veerappan would surrender. On the evening of November 4, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi sent a message to his Karnataka counterpart asking that Veerappan be given three more days to surrender.

The two Governments have apparently requested Central help in the form of an army contingent or paramilitary personnel. Although none of the officials was prepared to comment on the assistance sought from the Central Government, police sources told Frontline that it is likely to be in the form of around 45 National Security Guards (NSGs), who will be divided into groups and used as sharp-shooters.

Disclosing the logistics of the operation, police sources said that Veerappan's known area of operation (stretching across 18,500 sq km) would be divided into sectors. Each sector would then be combed. The plan is to constitute 15-16 teams, with 25 men in each team, including two inspectors. The STF operations are to begin simultaneously from the Dimbam and Pallar sides.

According to an inspector, the vast and difficult terrain poses a serious problem for the forces. He said, "By the time we get intelligence reports regarding his whereabouts, 24 to 48 hours goes by, and by the time we start moving towards him, he has moved." According to him, Veerappan travels between 20 to 30 km each night.

Speaking about the other problems that are likely to be encountered, a police official said that the smallness of Veerappan's gang works to his advantage since it becomes difficult to spot them in the forests. According to him, Veerappan and his men use the inter-State border to their advantage. However, with Tamil Nadu joining hands with Karnataka, he said that this problem is likely to be overcome.

Police personnel are confident that although Veerappan has two or three semi-automatic weapons, he will not engage them in a direct confrontation. Accord-ing to a police official, Veerappan has very little ammunition. Police personnel are of the opinion that he will try to ambush them. They are confident that intelligence reports on Veerappan's whereabouts will be easier to obtain now, since Veerappan has interacted with many more people over the past two years than he ever had before that.

KSTF personnel are of the opinion that once the operations begin, Veerappan would go on the offensive and may start killing villagers or police and forest personnel (Veerappan has himself said this earlier), or retreat deep into the forests, like he did when the Border Security Force launched an operation against him in 1993. (During that period, he hid in the Sirumugai forests for six months.)

What has surprised many observers is the ease with which Veerappan has been able to communicate with Gopal. According to an inspector who has served on the KSTF, vegetable merchants operating in the periphery of Coimbatore and Andhiyur (near Erode) work as conduits between Veerappan and Gopal. These merchants are in touch with farmers in the area, since they interact with them on a daily basis. Authorities have also received intelligence reports about many of the farmers being in touch with sympathisers and even members of Veerappan's gang.

According to an inspector who has served with the KSTF for nearly four years, putting pressure on Veerappan is possible only if Tamil Nadu joins hands with Karnataka. "In fact, Tamil Nadu has better information than us about his activities," he said.

According to him, if the two States make an all-out effort, Veerappan can be captured within 15 days.

After the initial exuberance in 1993, the joint operations suffered from what former Director-General of Police S.C. Burman termed as "lack of cooperation between the two police task forces." According to Burman, who, as ADGP (Law and Order), was in charge of anti-Veerappan operations, the joint operations started well, "but the tempo floundered because of "non-cooperation between the two forces. How the joint operations fare this time around, will be watched closely - unless of course, the unlikely happens and Veerappan surrenders.

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