'Veerappan is still in Karnataka'

Published : Sep 14, 2002 00:00 IST

Interview with Walter I. Dawaram, Joint Special Task Force chief.

Walter I. Dawaram, who has been at the helm of the two Special Task Forces for over 15 months and has been pursuing the Veerappan gang with the “full backing” of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, spoke to Ravi Sharma on issues relating to the operations. Excerpts:

In the aftermath of Nagappa’s abduction, what has been the Tamil Nadu STF’s strategy?

We haven’t changed our strategy. Nor have we slackened our resolve to hunt the brigand down. Our thinking is that Veerappan is still in Karnataka territory. We have moved 30 teams (of STFs) and located them on the border with Karnataka so that he does not try to sneak into Tamil Nadu. Whenever we get information, we cross into Karnataka, and two of our teams are also stationed there. There are no borders when you are hunting down a criminal like Veerappan, and Karnataka is not restricting our movement. I have just returned after two days in the jungles of Karnataka.

Is Veerappan still in Karnataka?

Yes, but now that nine days have elapsed since the kidnap, the time factor has to be taken into consideration. With the Karnataka border being only 75 to 80 km from where he picked up Nagappa, he could cover the distance in three days, though it could be difficult, with a hostage, to cover the distance in quick time. We now know that he stayed in Karnataka for some months before abducting Nagappa. Even in 2000 he stayed in Karnataka for eight months prior to crossing over to the Tamil Nadu side (Gajanur) and abducting Rajkumar.

Did the fact that Veerappan did not send a second cassette with his demands for 12 days worry you?

No. Since there was a concentration of policemen in the area and patrolling by the two STFs was tight, he could have found it difficult to reach a safe place from where to record and send a message.

Now, will the fact that he has a hostage make the mission more difficult?

Not really. Even on the two occasions in the past when I was leading the STF and was involved in a kidnap situation I preferred a frontal attack. In December 1994 we were able to free Chidambaranathan (former Deputy Superintendent of Police, Coimbatore) and two others taken hostage in Coimbatore district, and in November 1995 we freed three forest officials abducted near the Andhiyur range. Of course, with Nagappa’s life at stake, it is a separate issue for Karnataka.

There has been talk of preventing tribal people and others from entering the forests until Veerappan is apprehended. Is it possible since they are very much part of the brigand’s network of information?

There are 70,000 to 80,000 tribal people who go into the 8,000-sq km of forests every day to collect firewood and other produce. You cannot stop them. Yes, they help him but they always tell us that they have not seen him.

Is not the fact that Veerappan was able to pick his target easily a sad commentary on the preparedness of the STF?

I do not want to comment on the lapse of security or otherwise on the Karnataka side.

The Karnataka government has, after the abduction, inducted a number of officials into its STF...

The number of officers is not the criterion. They have to be prepared to go into the forest and show the willingness to undergo life in the forests. Today, in the Tamil Nadu STF, we only have volunteers, unlike in Karnataka where people are posted to the STF. I am happy with the 835 personnel that I have.

Much has been said about the lack of political will on the part of Tamil Nadu’s Chief Ministers to get Veerappan.

My directions have always been to go for him. Jayalalithaa has never said “go slow”. Unlike in the past, when officers were sent to the STF as a punishment - even a medically invalid Superintendent was posted here - today there is an abundance of political will to get the job done.

Did the removal of the Karnataka STF chief Kempaiah affect the STF’s work?

I did have a good rapport with Kempaiah. His removal was a hindrance.

The two States are reportedly asking for infra-red surveillance equipment and helicopters. Will they be of any help?

Infra-red will even show up the 80,000 tribal people who go into the forests. I don’t see any use for helicopters as nothing can be seen from them given the tree canopy. They can only be used to ferry men fast from one location to another.

With success eluding you, do you plan any change in strategy?

No. It is still a case of search and get him.
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