A breach of trust

Print edition : June 08, 2002

WHEN the Karnataka Police forcibly took away Nakkheeran reporter P. Sivasubramanian in November 2001, and both the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu police subsequently filed six cases against him, their next target was expected to be Nakkheeran Gopal, the Chennai-based Tamil magazine's editor. And on May 28 Gopal received a notice from the Tamil Nadu police that he had been included as an accused in the abduction of Kannada film actor Rajkumar by forest brigand Veerappan in July 2000. The notice, sent by the Inspector of Banglapudur police station, said Gopal should surrender before the Judicial Magistrate, Sathyamangalam, within ten days of receiving the notice. Besides, he should present himself at the Thalavadi police station every day for 15 days.

Nakkheeran reporter P. Sivasubramanian (left) and editor Nakkheeran Gopal.-

Three days earlier, on May 25, journalists from Chennai had criticised the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka police for violating established lawful procedure against Sivasubramanian. Some asserted that the two State governments had formed "an alliance to liquidate" the magazine Nakkheeran. The arrest was aimed at intimidating vigorously oppositional media in Tamil Nadu, they said. N. Ram, Editor, Frontline, said Sivasubramanian, a journalist, "has been made a scapegoat for the failures of governments, with some collateral motive [at play]". The two State governments, he pointed out, had made "solemn promises" when they decided to send Gopal, Sivasubramanian and other members of the Nakkheeran team as emissaries to rescue Rajkumar. One of the promises was that "no criminal prosecution will be set in motion against Nakkheeran Gopal and his associates on any future date in respect of any of their activity during this mission". The Home Secretaries of the two States had given these assurances in writing on October 9, 2000. So "a breach of trust has been committed," Ram asserted, in the criminal cases piling up against Sivasubramanian. He added that the issue was whether Gopal, Sivasubramanian and others in the Nakkheeran team were entitled to the procedure established under law, the right to life, the right to liberty and freedom of expression.

Under the terms agreed to by the two governments, "Nakkheeran Gopal and his associates shall be given immunity against penal provisions if any of their activity is secretive or contrary to the obligations under law". A third promise was that Gopal and his associates "will not be summoned to give evidence against Veerappan and his men" in any criminal case against the latter in the matter relating to Rajkumar's abduction.

Sivasubramanian was the first journalist to interview the notorious sandalwood smuggler, elephant poacher, gangster and serial murderer, Veerappan, in April 1993. Nakkheeran published the interview with photographs when the Special Task Force (STF) of the two States were hunting for Veerappan for months. The two State governments appointed Gopal and Sivasubramanian as their official emissaries to negotiate with Veerappan when he abducted ten Karnataka Forest Department personnel in July 1997, and, later, Rajkumar.

The popular film actor's abduction created a crisis in Karnataka. Chief Minister S.M. Krishna met the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi several times. Rajkumar was finally released in November 2000.

A year later, on November 20, 2001, Karnataka police personnel took away Sivasubramanian from near his home at Athur, near Salem in Tamil Nadu. Seven cases were filed against him. A case filed at Ramapura police station in Karnataka, charged him with offences under Sections 212 (harbouring offender) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code. A few days later, another case was filed against him at Chamarajanagar (East) police station, Karnataka, for offences under sections of the Indian Penal Code, Sections 27 and 325 of the Arms Act and Sections 3, 5 and 6 of the Explosive Substances Act. The Tamil Nadu police included Sivasubramanian as an accused in the case relating to Veerappan and his men attacking a police station at Vellitiruppur, near Erode, and snatching firearms.

The fourth case saw Sivasubramanian as an accused in the murder of a Kandavel, allegedly committed by Veerappan. The case was filed at Anthiyur police station in Tamil Nadu. The fifth case related to a landmine blast, allegedly triggered by Veerappan and his men on April 19, 1993, in which Special Task Force (STF) officer Gopalakrishan was injured and 22 policemen were killed. This case was reopened at M.M. Hills police station in Karnataka, this year. In the sixth case, Sivasubramanian is an accused in the abduction of Rajkumar by Veerappan. This case was filed at the Thalavadi police station in Tamil Nadu. Towards the end of May, Sivasubramanian was included as one of the accused in the case relating to the murder of a certain Bhaktavatchalam, allegedly committed by Veerappan.

Sivasubramanian has obtained bail in all cases except those relating to the blast and Rajkumar's abduction. Gopal has been made an accused now in the abduction case. Gopal obtained anticipatory bail from the Madras High Court on December 10, 2001. He said the cases were registered because Nakkheeran had exposed the atrocities committed by the STFs of the two States against the tribal people.

On June 3, journalists in Coimbatore held a demonstration protesting against the police harassing Sivasubramanian. In Chennai, the Madras Union of Journalists, the Madras Reporters' Guild, the Chennai Press Club and the Journalists' Action Group issued a joint statement on May 30 demanding that the Tamil Nadu government drop Nakkheeran Gopal and his associates from the list of accused in the Rajkumar abduction case.

T.S. Subramanian
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