The end of Veerappan
in Dharmapuri and Satyamangalam
G. SATYAMURTY and V.S. PALANIAPPAN
The Special Task Force of Tamil Nadu guns down the forest brigand and his associates in a meticulously
planned intelligence operation bringing to an end two decades of hunt.
THE Seventh Day Matriculation School in Padi in Tamil Nadu, around 12 km from Dharmapuri on the road to
Papparapatti, was on the night of October 18 witness to the endgame of one of independent India's most wanted
criminals - forest brigand Veerappan. On that fateful night, vehicular traffic on the road which links National
Highway 7 (Bangalore to Dharmapuri) and the Palakkodu-Pennagaram road, came to a halt at around 10-30 p.m.
What followed for the next 25 minutes is already the subject of folklore and conjecture.
Travelling on the road towards Dharmapuri in an ambulance, emblazoned with the words `SKS Hospital, Selam' and
driven by a policeman in plainclothes, was Veerappan, his long-time lieutenant Sethukuli Govindan, and two others
- Chandre Gowda, an outlaw who had been with Veerappan for a number of years, and Sethumani, an extremist
belonging to the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army. They had descended from the Pikkili Hills and waited to be picked
up from a maize field on the outskirts of Papparapatti (which is a small town, around 20 km west of Dharmapuri).
Also sitting in the vehicle next to driver Saravanan was Vellaidurai, a sub-inspector with the Tamil Nadu Police who
had been recently recruited into the Tamil Nadu Special Task Force (STF), which had been searching for the
Veerappan gang since its establishment in 1990. The ambulance was in fact a police vehicle that had been redone. It
was also fitted with a remote surveillance camera, which was supposed to send pictures back to the STF about the
movement of the gangsters from the fringes of the forest to the plain; but it malfunctioned. Operation Cocoon, led by
the Additional Director-General of Police and Commander of the Tamil Nadu STF, K. Vijay Kumar, was entering
its final phase.
A sugarcane-laden lorry, giving the impression that it was heading towards the sugar mill at nearby Palakkodu, was
parked in the middle of the road, diagonally opposite the school. Known as a `seed box' in military/ambush parlance,
the lorry was actually meant to block the path of the oncoming ambulance. A `mobile bunker' (another lorry) replete
with sandbags and armed STF commandos, which was to be the main firing zone, was parked, again, diagonally
opposite the school, at a 45° angle. Armed STF commandos were also positioned atop the school building. With the
20-foot-wide road well covered - mobile bunker to the north, seed box to the east and the school to the south - the
`prey', as it drove in from the west, would be cocooned. A third vehicle was parked elsewhere with reinforcements.
Once in `the zone', the ambulance was intercepted. And even as the fugitives were asked over a megaphone to
surrender, Saravanan and Vellaidurai melted away into the darkness. When the gang greeted the second call for
surrender with gunfire, the STF opened fire on the ambulance. According to the STF, the four outlaws were shot
dead in the gun battle that followed. While Veerappan was found dead, the others died on the way to hospital. Found
in the ambulance were two AK-47s, a non-ballistic .12 bore Remington pump action gun, a self-loading rifle, two
hand grenades and around Rs.3.5 lakhs in cash.
How did Veerappan die? Did he actually die in the gun battle? Or did he commit suicide, as some reports claim? Or
did he ask his fellow bandits to shoot him, knowing there was no way out?
According to one of the doctors who performed the post-mortem on the bodies at the Dharmapuri General Hospital,
Veerappan could not have committed suicide, but he could have been shot by his fellow bandits. In the doctor's
estimate, the fatal bullet could have been shot from a distance of 10 to 15 feet. Veerappan is said to have suffered
two puncture wounds to the head (most probably delivered by an AK-47). While one bullet had exited, the other was
embedded. There were also around 10 superficial wounds in the trunk region. Sethukuli Govindan, from whose body
seven bullets were recovered, had also suffered around 20 superficial wounds. While two bullets were recovered
from the trunk region of Chandre Gowda's body, no bullets were recovered from Sethumani's body.
Said the doctor: "All the four were in good physical shape. Veerappan appeared to be aged around 55, while
Govindan was in his mid-thirties. Veerappan's left eye had a fully mature cataract. The reason why the left eye
region had been forced in by two centimetres was the damage that the frontal region of the skull had suffered when
it was hit by the bullet."
Death in all the four cases, according to the doctor, was caused by bullet injuries. The doctor also disclosed that the
bullets were being sent for analysis at the Forensic Sciences Laboratory in Chennai. "By studying the bullets'
fingerprints and comparing them with the guns that were used both by the gang and by the STF, ballistic experts will
be able to tell us which bullet was fired from which gun. This could answer the question whether Veerappan was
shot by the STF or by one of his own men." Commenting on the precise nature of the bullet in Veerappan's head,
Vijay Kumar said that this could have happened because of the fact that the main firing zone was hardly two metres
from the ambulance.
According to Vijay Kumar, three core teams of 22 commandos armed with .9 mm sub-machine guns (which have a
range of 30 metres and are equipped with snub-nosed bullets), AK-47s (which have a rapid rate of fire) and shotguns
had taken up positions at Padi. Also present at the shootout, besides Vijay Kumar, were Tamil Nadu STF officers
Superintendents of Police N.K. Senthamaraikannan (who is credited with masterminding the intelligence aspects and
coordinating the operation), K. Shanmugavelu and P. Chinnasamy, Deputy Superintendents of Police N.
Thirunavukkarasu and Hussain, and Inspectors N. Rajarajan and Mohan Nawaz. The STF had blocked five entry
points and were prepared to take on the gang even if Veerappan had insisted on taking a route other than the one
A question that has been raised is why did so few bullets (hardly a 100) hit the ambulance and the four bandits,
despite the fact that 22 men had almost emptied their magazines (around 20 bullets in each) at the target. (One press
of an AK-47's trigger spews out two or three bullets.) Explained Senthamaraikannan: "Yes, we fired over 300
bullets, but it was part of our strategy. After our first round of fire, there was a lull. A few of the officers whom we
had summoned by mike once we knew that the van (ambulance) was indeed going to Padi joined us just prior to the
second round of fire. Then there was a lull, but we were not sure whether Veerappan and his people were dead, or
were regrouping to fire again. So in order to make them think that firing was still on, we had groups of our men
stationed at different points around the van to fire in the air. While the firing in the air was going on, two officers
opened the back door of the ambulance. No movement was found inside the van. During the operation 70 or 80 of
our bullets must have hit the target. The rest were fired in the air."
Since commandos generally do not fire in the air during ambushes unless they are cocksure that the target has been
eliminated, one can only speculate as to what would have happened if the gang had not been down and out and the
STF commandos had run out of ammunition by shooting in the air.
There is also the question why the STF did not allow the bandits to exhaust their bullets and then tried to capture
them alive. Said Vijay Kumar: "I would have liked to capture them alive, but when they opened fire I had to
Although a number of similar questions have risen on what really happened during the Padi shootout, there is no
doubt that the final chapter in the long-running saga of Veerappan, who carried a reward of Rs 5.5 crores on his
head, was the culmination of at least 10 months of hectic preparations, including spot-on intelligence and meticulous
planning by the Tamil Nadu STF (see box).
The chief role of the Karnataka STF appears to have been to ensure that the bandit and his gang did not have a free
run through the Karnataka side of the forests. There was also a serious effort to cut out red-tapism and
one-upmanship between the two STFs, something that had characterised anti-Veerappan operations in the past.
As an informed source pointed out, the Karnataka STF chief Inspector-General of Police Jyoti Prakash Mirji had
placed his entire force and its weapons and contacts under the command of his senior STF officer across the State
boundary, Vijay Kumar. Although the Karnataka STF was unaware of the final assault, it had provided two groups
of commandos who would have come into the picture if Veerappan had insisted on the ambulance taking an
According to informed sources, in May STF personnel, in a bid to locate the whereabouts of the gang and to
`penetrate' Veerappan's inner circle of friends, had paid a series of visits to prisons in Coimbatore, Bangalore,
Kollegal (Chamrajnagar), Chennai, Salem and Cuddalore and had questioned a number of inmates, who were known
to have contacts with the Veerappan gang. For example, in August officers from the Tamil Nadu STF's intelligence
wing questioned a few persons jailed in Bangalore, owing allegiance to the Tamizhar Viduthalai Iyakkam (TVI).
Arrested in November 2002 for possessing explosives, these men included Muthukumar, who is alleged to have
spent considerable time with Veerappan during the Rajkumar abduction episode. According to Vijay Kumar, the
reason why Muthukumar was allowed to stay in the forests with the gang was that another TVI extremist, Maran
(who was arrested in 2003 by the Tamil Nadu Police), had given Veerappan Rs.2 lakhs.
The STF is also said to have questioned Veerappan's brother Mathaiyan, who is jailed in Coimbatore, and kept a
close watch on Veerappan's wife Muthulakshmi, who was detained in a house in Coimbatore. A number of
educated, young constables and sub-inspectors were also placed as undercover operatives in jails in Chennai and
Coimbatore. Masquerading as petty criminals, these operatives were able to strike a chord with members of Tamil
separatist organisations such as the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army and the Tamil Nadu Retrieval Force, and learnt
how to make contact with conduits close to the Veerappan gang. Vijay Kumar denied that the STF had used Muslim
extremists as conduits.
ACCORDING to Vijay Kumar, the key to Operation Cocoon lay in the use of the `cut-out' system of information
gathering (where conduits/informers in the chain of intelligence gathering/information dissemination are aware of
only the person they are in contact with and no one else in the chain).
"Having learnt from Veerappan's school that deception was the best weapon," the STF finally chose to go in for a
strategy that "worked flawlessly". Armed with snippets of information, Vijay Kumar and Senthamaraikannan put
into place a network of informers, attracting in the process a few of Veerappan's own conduits to their side.
These men were crucial to the success of Operation Cocoon. Between 25 and 30 local people and "fringe elements"
(some of whom were Tamil extremists) were approached. While some showed an inclination to turn their backs on
the brigand, others scoffed at the inducements. Some double-crossed the STF, and others ran away.
Finally four or five persons were enlisted. They became the mouth and ears of the STF. They infiltrated the gang
and convinced Veerappan that they were `working' for him and had the wherewithal to provide "whatever he
Vijay Kumar, who worked under Walter I. Dawaram during the early stages of the hunt for Veerappan, took over as
the chief of the joint command of the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka STFs only in December last, beginning his third
stint in the force. His first initiative then was to revive the "half-dormant assets" (informers) as he was certain that
precise intelligence alone could help zero in on the gang.
Every piece of information was sifted and pursued meticulously. Information that had the probability of less than
100 per cent success was not followed up. It was finally decided to lure the brigand out of the forests by entering his
den. The information garnered enabled the STF to `get into' the mind of the brigand, to study everything that he was
Said Senthamaraikannan: "Unlike in the past we did not want to fight him (by combing and patrols) where he is
strong. We started to think like him. It was a psychological battle. We learnt to flow with his thoughts. Whom did he
suspect? When did he suspect them? After learning his method of thinking we were able to make him act according
to our script."
Once the general location of the gang was identified as being in the vicinity of the Malai Mahadeshwara Hills, the
STF decided to push it into the thinner forests towards the east in a task that took all of seven months but was well
worth it. "Any hunt in the jungles had only a fraction of a chance and on nine out of 10 occasions it would be
possible for the gang to give us the slip. Allowing him to continue in the jungles would definitely frustrate the
mission," Vijay Kumar said.
The STF fortified its posts at Nallur, Hoogyam and Jallipalaya, right up to the river Cauvery, a distance of around 30
km, making life difficult for the gang. Said Vijay Kumar: "We were now holding his territory. Later we moved our
men northwards into the Pennagaram forests right up to Natrampalayam. This once again gave the gang the space to
The gang was shepherded towards the Dharmapuri, Pennagaram and Yemanur forests and the fringes of
Papparapatti, places that were relatively unfamiliar to it. A few raids and patrols in pockets close to where the gang
was hiding were conducted to give the impression that the STF was still not able to pinpoint the gang's location.
According to Vijay Kumar, this was the time that the STF learnt through informers of fissures in the gang and of
Veerappan's eye ailment. But he was hesitant to come down to the plains for treatment, though the ailment was
providing his lieutenant Govindan with a reason to try and take over the leadership of the gang. Said Vijay Kumar:
"It was imperative that he have his eye checked if he was to regain control of the gang." There was also a conflict of
interest between Veerappan and Chandre Gowda, who was keen to go and be with his aged and ailing parents. The
bandit was also worried whether Sethumani would desert the gang after pocketing some of the money.
What made Veerappan trust the conduits? Said Senthamaraikannan: "Veerappan was desperate for three things - to
get his eye operated upon, to recruit trained manpower and to buy weapons. He wanted to regroup and was planning
to kidnap either a prominent religious leader [Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt chief Jayendra Saraswati said in Kozhikode,
Kerala, on October 30 that the STF got information that his name had figured in Veerappan's list] or a Karnataka
Minister. Our conduits, after being briefed by us, were able to convince him that the eye ailment was a very minor
one and that a doctor would treat him in a farmhouse. [STF sources indicated that the farmhouse was on the outskirts
of Kollimalai, around 10 km from Papparapatti.] We also offered him other things. But what else we offered is a
There have been unsubstantiated rumours that he was heading towards a safehouse or was being offered a safe
passage to Sri Lanka - Veerappan had a fascination for the LTTE and its leader V. Prabakaran - but these have been
denied by the STF. There has also been speculation that either he was captured or he surrendered and that he was
detained for two days at a location near Mallayanor, about 15 km from Papparapatti and close to the Pikkili Hills.
Sources in the STF said that one of the reasons why Veerrappan chose to take all his confidants with him was that he
was sure that he would get away: "It was Veerappan who persuaded, the others to come for a ride. He was also very
suspicious. He thought that if any of them got caught in his absence, his location would be compromised."
IN a separate reaction, Vijay Kumar said "the main credit" for the operation went to Senthamaraikannan. "The
coordination between Senthamaraikannan and me was excellent and he did a perfect job," he said. The killing of the
brigand was "basically an intelligence operation" which was "aided by finding the right people for the job and
executing the job with anticipation and contingency plans", he added. Asked whether the STF had used two men of
Suba. Ilavarasan's ultra-leftist group, the TVI, to infiltrate the gang and whether they had stayed with Veerappan for
several weeks, Vijay Kumar said they were speculative details on which he did not want to comment.
Contrary to reports in the media, sources in the STF say Vellaidurai did not infiltrate the Veerappan gang and stay
with it in the forests for three weeks. He went inside the forests two or three times in July "to make contact" with
Veerappan but did not succeed, the source said. Thereafter, Vellaidurai met Veerappan and his men only on the day
they were killed by the STF.
Senthamaraikannan said: "Vellaidurai's role was purely to pick up the gang from a predetermined spot. We removed
the man who was supposed to drive the vehicle (as per Veerappan's plans) and supplanted Vellaidurai. We chose
him because of his build, shaven head... He gave the impression of being a Tamil extremist. Also, since he had
newly joined the STF, he would not react emotionally when he saw Veerappan. Vellaidurai was the last point of
contact for the mission. Veerappan had also been told that the man who was coming to meet him would be armed, so
Vellaidurai faced no difficulties."
THERE is little doubt that the political stakes have always been higher in Karnataka than in Tamil Nadu when it
came to the Veerappan imbroglio. Whether it was by accident or otherwise, all of Veerappan's high-profile hostages
were residents of Karnataka. The biggest catch was film actor Rajkumar, in 2000, and next came former Karnataka
Minister H. Nagappa, in 2002. On both occasions, the S.M. Krishna government was rattled by the Opposition and
the media. In the words of Krishna, it was "one of the low points of his tenure as Chief Minister". He told Frontline
after the brigand's death that Veerappan had given him "so much trouble" and that "the abduction crises were a
Other governments were also hauled over the coals, most notably that of J.H. Patel, after the brigand kidnapped six
persons from the Bandipur National Park in 1997. The kidnapping of Rajkumar and Nagappa and the latter's death
are still shrouded in controversies, the first because of the huge ransom (Rs.20 crores) that was allegedly paid, and
the second because Nagappa was found dead in the forest.
The Karnataka government's joy - despite the fact that its STF, on whom the State had spent Rs.20 crores, had only a
marginal role in the denouement - was therefore understandable. It was also always suspected, but never proved that
Veerappan had received ample support from `friends' in the political class. Given this and the persistent media
probing on the hows and whys of the Veerappan saga, Chief Minister N. Dharam Singh on October 19 ordered an
inquiry into the political and financial support that was accorded to the brigand.
The government is yet to decide on the nature of the probe. An immensely pleased Dharam Singh also announced
that all 900 personnel of the Karnataka STF would get a residential site in their respective hometowns.
A festival in Chennai
THE Tamil Nadu government organised a big function in Chennai on October 30 to celebrate the killing of
Veerappan and his gang. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa honoured the 752 Tamil Nadu Special Task Force personnel for
their "wondrous achievement". She presented each of them with a cheque for Rs.3 lakhs. Earlier she had promised
each of them a one-step promotion and a house site at the place of their choice. Enhanced cash awards were given to
the families of the State Forest Department staff killed by Veerappan. Jayalalithaa presented gold medals to former
STF chiefs W.I. Dawaram and R. Natraj (now Chennai Police Commissioner), STF chief and Additional
Director-General of Police K. Vijay Kumar, STF Superintendent of Police N.K. Senthamaraikannan, Deputy
Inspector-General Sanjay Arora (who was earlier in the STF), Sub-Inspector Vellaidurai, driver Saravanan and other
STF personnel. Personnel who were injured in encounters with Veerappan received silver medals.
The function went on for nearly three hours, with the Chief Minister personally presenting the awards to all the 752
STF personnel who received them in 10 batches. Fifty-one State Forest Department staff and former STF personnel
received medals from top police officers.
The medal-giving ceremony was interspersed with dances and skits by the STF personnel. The families of the STF
personnel were present at the stadium. People cheered as a commentator praised the Chief Minister's "unshakeable
faith in the STF, and the faith that the STF itself had in its `general' [Vijay Kumar]". He ended the commentary by
saying, "We salute the Tamil Nadu Police."
Jayalalithaa said the news of Veerappan's killing conveyed to her by Vijay Kumar over telephone was the best news
she had heard since she assumed office. Lauding the efforts of the STF, she said a 20-year hunt had ended in 20
minutes. She praised Vijay Kumar's efforts as a "tremendous achievement that would forever remain in history".
Jayalalithaa said it was she who motivated the STF after she came back to power in 2001. Between 1993 and 1996
(during her earlier tenure), there were 28 encounters between the STF and Veerappan, she claimed. The STF's
activities were, however, "bottled up", she alleged, after the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam headed by M.
Karunanidhi, returned to power in 1996.
She announced that a memorial would be constructed on the premises of the Tamil Nadu Police Academy to honour
the STF men who sacrificed their lives. About Rs.50 crores had been spent on the STF right from its inception, she
In his thanksgiving speech, Vijay Kumar said the encouragement given by the Chief Minister was an important
factor that helped in the success of Operation Cocoon. He praised his predecessors Dawaram and Sanjay Arora for
their relentless efforts to catch Veerappan; Natraj for "the foundation he laid" that led to this present victory; and
Senthamaraikannan, Tamilselvan, Mohan Nawaz, Vellaidurai and others for their contributions. He revealed that the
STF men were trained to react fast, that is fire within 60 seconds.
ACROSS the political spectrum, party leaders paid tributes to the STF. Karunanidhi appreciated the joint operations
of the STFs of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. "If Veerappan had surrendered as he had initially agreed to when the
DMK was in power [from 1996 to 2001], he need not have met this end," he said. Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra
Kazhagam general secretary Vaiko said that although contradictory details were available about how Veerappan was
killed, there was a feeling of relief. Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former Union Minister S. Thirunavukkarasar
said the Tamil Nadu STF held its head high now. Congress legislator S.R. Balasubramaniam said it was only proper
that the brigand met such an end. In separate statements, both R. Nallakannu and N. Varadarajan, secretaries of State
units of the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) respectively, congratulated the
STFs on ending Veerappan's atrocities. Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy wanted a high-level commission
of inquiry to be appointed to probe the wealth accumulated by Veerappan and those who had helped him to dodge
Human rights activists from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, after a two-day fact-finding mission,
described the killing as "extra-judicial". The killing of Veerappan went against the Constitution, which barred a
State from taking the life of an individual without committing him/her to the court of law. Prof. Seshaiah, general
secretary, Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee, demanded a high-level judicial inquiry into the killing.
The gains of good intelligence
THE one question that rankled people following the Veerappan saga was "why could the police forces of the two
States, with all their wherewithal and firepower, not catch a fugitive for almost two decades?" The primary reason
had to be the lack of reliable intelligence that could be interpreted and acted upon by a commando team. Military
experts with experience in counter-insurgency operations had insisted that the way to breach the domain of the
brigand was not with firepower or manpower, but with intelligence inputs on the gang's movement through the
forests and with the help of infiltrators. The intelligence could be followed up with firepower.
Although efforts were made by the security forces to buy or extract (by methods fair and foul) information from
villagers and the Soliga tribal people who frequent the forests that Veerappan roamed, the information was more
often than not patchy, came too late, and was rarely acted upon. And, crucially, the information was hardly allowed
to remain a secret. Countering this trickle of intelligence was Veerappan's own intelligence network, which was
vaster and more prepared to assimilate information and pass it on at lightening speed to the gang or its sympathisers.
The gang was, therefore, always in the know of the movements and operations, while the police were perpetually
groping in the dark.
This situation was not lost on Additional Director-General of Police K. Vijay Kumar when he took over as the
Commander of the Tamil Nadu Special Task Force (STF) last December. Putting together his past experience with
the anti-Veerappan operations (this is his third stint with the STF) and the experience he gained in the elite Special
Protection Group and then in the Border Security Force, and with the help of his deputy, Superintendent of Police
N.K. Senthamaraikannan, Vijay Kumar was able to "quietly, with no fanfare", put in place over a 10-month period,
a secretive and cellular intelligence network that supplied reliable information without raising the target's suspicion.
The STF's intelligence dissemination and collection was based on the `cut-out system', where informers in the
intelligence gathering chain were only known to the person they were in direct contact with. This way the location
and identity of the person was not compromised, something that Veerappan himself practised with success over the
Speaking to Frontline, Vijay Kumar explained that extreme secrecy in the selection and dissemination of
intelligence was the key to the operation's success: "We formed cells (each one handling bits and pieces of
intelligence) and each particular cell's intelligence input was known to just two people. If a third person was also
involved then the level of secrecy could not have been maintained. Very rarely did more than two people know
about an intelligence input. This cellular way of working on the intelligence that we obtained helped us in tracking
down the gang." The various bits and pieces of information was then connected and coordinated by
Vijay Kumar said that the cellular method made a major difference to Operation Cocoon. So closely guarded was
most of the intelligence that even the Tamil Nadu STF top brass (leave alone the Karnataka STF) was not aware of
all the information that was being garnered. Officers were aware of intelligence inputs purely on a need-to-know
The STF also achieved a major breakthrough by infiltrating Veerappan's intelligence gathering network. According
to informed sources, the STF was able to `reach' the gang through about 15 informers/conduits, who were all local
people trusted by Veerappan. Said an officer from the STF: "Some of these conduits were originally with us but had
switched over to Veerappan's side. But, crucially, we were able to reconvert these people. Although they supplied
Veerappan with bits of information about our movements, we were able to convert these conduits to our advantage.
They worked as double agents. We were prepared to do anything to convert them. We studied their weakness and
requirements. And we used not just money (lots of it was handed out) but other inducements, like promises of a job,
a house and rehabilitation in a safe place. Much work went into finding out their requirements, then we had to
persuade them, that is what took time."
In order to maintain the high levels of secrecy, the STF also made sure that the conduits never mingled with each
other and so one did not know what information the other was supplying.
However, according to Vijay Kumar, it was not just intelligence that clinched Operation Cocoon. He said: "The
intelligence was backed with good physical work and knowledge of the Veerappan heartland. We also gave our men
adequate training. They may not have known where and when they would be needed, but they were in readiness to
operate anywhere and at any time."
After the reign of terror
IRONICALLY, it was not the slaying of Veerappan that the residents of villages such as Govindapadi and
Chengapadi on the periphery of the forests that the brigand controlled celebrated. For them, it was a moment of joy
because the death of Veerappan meant an end to the operations of the Special Task Force (STF) and the "constant
harassment" at its hands.
"We shall now be left in peace to lead our lives. We can now go into the forests to collect firewood and berries,
graze our cattle, or go about our daily lives without the fear of being picked up for questioning or being accused of
abetting Veerappan's crimes," was the common refrain in these villages. It is equally ironic that no one shed tears for
Veerappan in his native village of Gopinatham at the base of the Malai Mahadeshwara (M.M.) Hills on the
Karnataka side of the inter-State border, not even members of the Padayachi Gounder community to which he
belonged. They did not want the body to be cremated or buried in the village. They were happy that the cycle of
Veerappan's crimes and subsequent police interrogation was finally over.
But there were a few voices of remorse in the villages, among the sizable number of onlookers at the Dharmapuri
General Hospital where the brigand's body was kept, at Veerappan's widow Muthulakshmi's house and at his grave
in Moolakkadu (15 km from Mettur). They mourned the death of a "man who had defied for over two decades the
might of two State governments" and lamented that "he died a dog's death".
The death of Veerappan, though, did come as a surprise to almost all people (including most STF members and
other police personnel) in the areas where the gang was active. Given Veerappan's larger-than-life image, reports
about his death in the STF ambush were taken with a pinch of salt. The feeling is that the gang, especially
Veerappan, given his suspicious nature, would never have agreed to get into a motor vehicle.
Expressing scepticism at the STF's version of the events, many of them said that the gang had "been caught
elsewhere, tortured and killed", a view that was echoed by Muthulakshmi. An emotional Muthulakshmi told
Frontline that her husband could never have been trapped by the police. "He would have probably committed
suicide," she said.
Moolakkadu, a stone's throw from the river Cauvery, has been attracting a stream of visitors. While most of them are
driven to it by curiosity, others are diehard supporters of the brigand. Said S. Palani from a nearby hamlet: "He may
have looted, but then many politicians are doing the same. Only, Veerappan did it openly. To us he was a hero."
There are others who thought he was a tyrant from whom there was no escape. Said Ayyan Mahadappan from
Govindapadi, 21 km from Mettur: "We had to surrender to him. It is not that we went to him. He accosted us in the
forests or came to our villages and took us away. We were then used to load sandalwood on to lorries or to carry the
gang's provisions. But the STF used to harass us saying that we were part of the gang." Similar tales were related by
tribal people wandering in forests like Nallur, Hoogyam, Jallipalaya, Talakere and Oozhimalai.
For the residents of Gopinatham, some of whom even joined the STF personnel when they burst firecrackers and
distributed sweets, Veerappan's death would hopefully put an end to the unwanted attention that the village had been
receiving for 18 years, ever since the bandit killed Tamil Nadu forest officer Chidambaram. And though Veerappan
and his immediate family had long deserted the village - the bandit's disused house is on the verge of collapse - the
Karnataka STF had put Gopinatham under 24-hour surveillance. Any crime by the gang, irrespective of where it was
committed brought more misery to the village. Nothing could move in and out of the village without being first
checked by the STF. Even people carrying provisions from the Public Distribution System outlets were routinely
The STF was always suspicious that the provisions were intended for the brigand and his gang. Further, there was an
unofficial curfew clamped on the village. The continuous police presence and the fact that a number of villagers had
been recruited by the STF to serve as police informers had created a rift in the once closed-knit community.
Veerappan was no friend of the village. He did not hand out bundles of money to its residents. He did use a few
people to buy provisions, clothes and tarpaulins. But his tyranny - he nonchalantly eliminated people whom he
suspected of being informers - hardly endeared him to the residents. Gopinatham residents still talk about how he
hacked Kotti Naicker, one of them, because he travelled in a police jeep.
Caught in the crossfire, villagers, most of whom are small and medium landholders and are dependent on their
paddy, cotton or turmeric crop, were not able to sell their produce to people from the surrounding hamlets. Now,
with Veerappan gone, they hope that customers will once again return to buy their produce.
Further on from Gopinatham, people of hamlets such as Hannur, Ponnachi, Chengadi, Hoogyam, Meenyam and
Martahalli hope that the Karnataka government will reopen the granite quarries that lie on the periphery of the
forests now that the Veerappan menace is over. The quarries, which were closed 10 years ago in the wake of the
Palar bridge blast on the border between the two States in which 22 policemen were killed, provided jobs to over
A bloody trail
Veerappan's life was one of plunder and bloodshed, and he was unremorseful to the end.
FOR almost 20 years Koose Munisamy Veerappan was the king of 6,000 of the18,000 square kilometres of dense
mixed jungles, ravines, rivers and villages on the fringes of forests, stretching from Denkanikote, Anchetti and
Hogenekal in Tamil Nadu's Dharmapuri district through the Malai Mahadeshwara (M.M.) Hills, the Biligiri Ranga
(B.R.) Hills and Bandipur in Karnataka, right up to the Niligiri ranges in Tamil Nadu, and abutting slightly into the
Palakkad Gap in the Vyalar forests, where a 50 km natural gap in the 960-km-long Western Ghats opens into Kerala.
With complete mastery over the terrain, the forest brigand killed man and beast ruthlessly, evaded the law and
eluded the dragnet spread by the Special Task Forces of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. It was a life swathed in plunder
and bloodshed, to the end.
Although no accurate record of the number of persons murdered by Veerappan is available, according to an
estimate, he killed 140-odd persons. Forest Department personnel, policemen and STF personnel of both States
constitute 44 of them. One victim was a Border Security Force jawan. He poached a few hundred elephants and
looted 10,000 tonnes of sandalwood. His strategy was to lure, ambush and shoot, and sometimes play Macbeth by
killing his guest. He ruthlessly gunned down anyone he perceived to be an informer. He had a bizarre way of
checking the credibility of the suspect. Picking up a handful of pebbles, Veerappan would toss them, two at a time,
at the feet of the idol of Mahadeshwara, which he worshipped. If he was left with one pebble the suspect was
deemed guilty and beheaded; if he was left with no pebbles, the suspect got the benefit of the doubt.
Veerappan was one of the three sons (the others being Mathaiyan and Arjunan) of Munisamy and Punidhayamma.
He was born in 1952 at Gopinatham, a small settlement in the midst of a closed forest in Kollegal taluk in
Chamrajnagar district of Karnataka, bordering Dharmapuri district. Munisamy belonged to an agricultural family of
Thampalli in Salem district of Tamil Nadu. The family relocated to Gopinatham after Thampalli and scores of
adjoining villages were submerged by the Mettur dam.
Veerappan used to accompany his father whenever he went to hunt deer and wild fowl for meat, and soon became a
good marksman. His initial claim to fame was when as a youngster he killed a tiger single-handedly in Gopinatham.
By his own admission in one of the video footages shot by P. Sivasubramaniam, a reporter with the Tamil magazine
Nakkheeran, at the age of 12 he killed an elephant, sawed off its tusks and sold them to Sevi Gounder, a local ivory
trader. (He was arrested by the Karnataka forest guards near M.M. Hills, but he escaped.) A pleased Sevi Gounder
gifted him with a firearm made in England. Thus began Veerappan's initiation into poaching.
As elephant tusks fetched handsome money, several gangs became active in the forests. These competed with one
another to mow down hundreds of tuskers, forcing the Union government to curb the trade in ivory. This reportedly
led to the retirement of Sevi Gounder from the trade.
In 1970 Veerappan left Gopinatham and the family's eight hectares of dryland to plunder the deciduous forests of the
Western Ghats. The money from sandalwood smuggling was all too tempting for poachers who were able to get
away because of their links with politicians both in Karnataka and in Tamil Nadu. Veerappan learnt very early in his
criminal life that he could achieve anything with the right connections. He started looting sandalwood from the
forests of Sathyamangalam, Thalaimalai and Bargur (in Tamil Nadu) and Thithimathi, Gundulpet, Kollegal and
Bandipur (in Karnataka), sharing the booty with `friends' in the police and forest departments and among politicians.
(In the 1980s he even campaigned for his politician friends during the elections.) Although the usual practice was for
the politician-police nexus to annihilate the poacher before he grew too big, Veerappan turned out to be too wily. In
1972, the Tamil Nadu Police arrested him near Mettur, but the intervention of a legislator helped him secure bail.
Veerappan's sustained elephant poaching also started around this time.
Veerappan was ruthless with his rivals in the trade. He beheaded them and displayed their heads as trophies. One
such rival was Thangavelu. On May 5, 1986, a "mediator" arranged a "forgive and forget" dinner for the two groups
at Gopinatham. After the dinner, Veerappan shot dead Thangavelu and his brothers. That brought Veerappan under
the ken of the law. His supremacy established, he unleashed a reign of terror, and it became impossible for the
authorities to ignore him.
Sources in the STF, which built a dossier on Veerappan based on surrogate and secondary information, pointed out
that between 1990 and1995, Veerappan's killings had no rationale. For instance, he shot dead even a 12-year-old boy
at point-blank range even as he was pleading for mercy. He was one of the seven persons killed at Manjugammpatty
in November 1993 in a horrible fashion. At Gethesal, apart from shooting dead five informants in one go, he ordered
his men to sever their limbs as he "wanted to see blood flow". The anguished villagers closed down the
Mariyamman temple as they felt the deity did not come to the rescue of their kin. The temple was reopened last
Real trouble for Veerappan began when he fell out with the police and forest officials of the two States in sharing
the spoils. Veerappan had forged a nexus with local politicians in the smuggling of sandalwood. By the mid-1980s,
out of the control of his police and Forest Department minders, Veerappan had formed his own gang. A few
politicians were still able to exercise a degree of influence, but even that was to evaporate, with Veerappan acquiring
a redoubtable gang of desperadoes and enough arms - self-loading rifles and muzzle guns made by village
blacksmiths - and ammunition. Whenever his activities brought him into collision with Forest Department personnel
he did not hesitate to murder them. In December 1986 he was arrested in Bangalore and lodged at the Boodipadga
government guest house in Chamrajnagar. He escaped and a subsequent government inquiry pointed to the
involvement of the District Superintendent of Police in this. But the government of the day did nothing; the officer
Although Veerappan killed four Karnataka forest guards in 1984 near Nagarhole and Bandipur, his sustained
hostage-for-ransom abductions started in 1987. The Tamil Nadu government sat up when he killed V.
Chidambaram, a forest officer of the Sathyamangalam range, on July 14, 1987. Not surprisingly, the majority of his
hostages were police and forest personnel. Granite quarry owners of Kollegal taluk operating in the periphery of the
forests were also kidnapped and made to pay huge ransoms. In December 1987 he picked up M. Duraiswamy, a
forest guard, and A. Subramaniam, a watcher from the Forest Department, near the Sathyamangalam forests, and
had them killed in a horrific manner - boiling them in a big vessel used for brewing arrack. More forest personnel
were killed in the years that followed.
In order to catch Veerappan, the Tamil Nadu government set up the STF comprising specially trained police
commandos in January 1990. Karnataka followed suit in April 1990. But Veerappan was unstoppable. In 1990, he
shot dead four policemen near Hogenekal.
His beheading in November 1991 of Deputy Conservator of Forests P. Srinivas, who was drafted into the Karnataka
STF, shocked the authorities. Srinivas was lured into a trap by Arjunan. More mayhem was to follow when in
August 1992 Veerappan ambushed and shot dead Mysore District Superintendent of Police T. Harikrishna and four
others from the police department, including Sub-Inspector Shakeel Ahmed, near Meenyam.
By then Veerappan had acquired landmines and explosives. He attacked the Ramapura (Karnataka) police station,
killing six policemen. (In 1998 he attacked the Villitirupur (Tamil Nadu) police station and seized guns.) He
detonated landmines on April 9, 1993, to blast two buses carrying STF commandos of the two States, forest
watchers and police informers near the Palar bridge in Erode district. This attack claimed 22 lives.
After this attack, Walter I. Dawaram, then Additional Director-General of Police (Law and Order), Tamil Nadu, who
later led the STF, admitted that Veerappan had become the State's "no.1 law and order problem". "This is the first
time that he has used landmines. Every time he strikes, his modus operandi is different... He is getting more and
more sophisticated and invariably manages to lure people into his trap," he said. On another occasion, Dawaram
said: "Veerappan is not just (a mere) bandit. He is able to analyse the psyche of the opponents thoroughly before
launching an operation."
Sustained efforts by the STFs under Dawaram and Shankar Bidri led to the size of the Veerappan gang, which at one
time had swelled to over 100, being reduced to under eight. The pressure forced him to make an offer of surrender in
December 1994. Over the years he had made countless such offers, many of them were a ploy to escape while the
governments dithered over what terms to offer him. And most of the surrender offers were followed by abduction.
Veerappan had realised that abduction was an easy means to keep the cash flowing.
With each abduction, he made outrageous demands. The abductions were made so that he could talk to the
government from a position of strength. First he wanted to surrender; then he insisted on general amnesty; and
finally he sought complete pardon.
The demands he made during those occasions included grant of Rs.1,000 crores to rehabilitate the families of
members of his gang killed by the STF; withdrawal of all cases against him anywhere in India; the grant of a
100-year lease to quarry in the M.M. Hills; a comfortable place of detention ("I am used to walking 10 miles a day
in the forests," he had said); regular meetings with his family members; regular supply of chicken, butter, fruits...;
and filming of his life in all Indian languages.
In comparison, in the demands he made after the abduction of Kannada film actor Rajkumar in July 2000, he tried to
project himself as a person who cared for the interests of Tamil Nadu in the Cauvery river water dispute with
Karnataka and as a person who wanted to protect the Tamil language by insisting that Tamil should be the medium
of instruction in schools, probably under the influence of ultra-left organisations whose members were holed up with
him in the forests then. The surrender idea took a back seat during the Rajkumar abduction. Flush with money he got
in exchange for the release of Rajkumar after four months, it is still unclear why he abducted the former Karnataka
Minister H. Nagappa in August 2002. Nagappa was found dead in mysterious circumstances in December that year.
IT was around 1987 that he got married to Muthulakshmi, and a daughter was born to them in 1989. A second
daughter was born in 1993. . A few days after the child was born, Veerappan and his "mobile village" of men and
women came under pressure because of the STF's combing operations. Veerappan and his lieutenant Sethukuli
Govindan managed to hand over the infant to a trusted friend. Muthulakshmi continued to live with Veerappan in
the forests for a couple of months. In another combing operation, the men escaped and the STF secured
Muthulakshmi and eight other women of the gang elsewhere. Muthulakshmi met Veerappan again in August 2000
when Rajkumar was abducted. It was then that Veerappan revealed to her where the second child was growing.
Contrary to media projection, Veerappan was never a Robin Hood. He was stingy; he parted with his ill-gotten
money only when he really had to. He paid the people living on the fringes of the forests handsome wages for
identifying mature sandalwood trees and cutting and smuggling them to destinations in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.
He also gave food liberally to the people. He provided for his relatives and Muthulakshmi, amply though. Police
sources said that Muthulakshmi owns two houses in Mettur and two earthmovers valued at Rs.6 lakhs each (which
were being rented out to contractors in Mettur, Salem and Coimbatore). She also lends money on interest.
Veerappan truly belonged to the forests. He was a keen observer, though not a friend, of wildlife, and could
perfectly imitate the trumpeting of elephants. If an "allkaatti" swallow flew, he knew human beings were moving
about in the forest. A religious man, he performed surya namskar (worship of the sun) twice a day.
He enjoyed playing on a bamboo flute, which he had made himself, and dancing. He had "godowns" dug in the
forest floor, where provisions wrapped in cellophane bags were buried. He had an uncanny knack of identifying
He believed in omens. While the tweeting of sparrows and the call of a lizard from a particular direction was a bad
omen, chirping of a woodpecker from the west and east were good omens. It was one such omen that made
Veerappan act hastily in shifting Nagappa, resulting in his panic killing, STF sources assert.
DISBELIEF, relief and satisfaction - that is how the families who had lost their loved ones to the bullets or
explosives of Veerappan reacted to his bloody end. Without doubt one of the happiest persons was Abdul Karim, the
retired Deputy Superintendent of Police whose son, Sub-Inspector Shakeel Ahmed, was killed by the bandit in
August 1992. Calling the killing of Veerappan a "relief for humanity", Karim who in 2000 had successfully
petitioned the Supreme Court to stop the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments from accepting Veerappan's
demand for the release of those detained under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, said that it
was "too good to be true". Karim, who had consistently opposed any dilution in the efforts to apprehend Veerappan
and his gang, told Frontline that the sacrifice made by his son did not go in vain.
Recalling proudly the stealth operations launched in the early 1990s by Shakeel Ahmed and his senior officer,
District Superintendent of Police, Mysore, T. Harikrishna against the gang, Abdul Karim said that the duo had
become a "two-man army", which established a brilliant intelligence network in the area, ferreted out credible
information about Veerappan, and helped paralyse conduits who were supplying arms and ammunition to the gang.
They had also gained access to key members of the gang such as Ayyandurai and Veerappan's brother Arjunan.
Shakeel Ahmed's brother Jamil Ahmed, a Professor in the Political Science Department of the University of Mysore,
added: "It is to the credit of Shakeel (Ahmed) that he met Veerappan incognito in the forests, convinced him
(Veerappan) of his credentials as an arms dealer who would supply automatic guns in return for ivory, and enticed
the bandit's strategist and arms supplier Gurunathan into a trap. In the series of operations that followed, Gurunathan
was flushed out of his hideout by Shakeel and Harikrishna and shot dead in an encounter near Dinahalli. This
operation could not have been possible by men of straw."
Both Shakeel Ahmed and Harikrishna paid for their bravery with their lives. Along with four other policemen, they
were ambushed in a retaliatory strike by Veerappan between Ramapura and the Meenyam forests on August 14,
1992. Said Jamil Ahmed: "Yes, it would have been better if he had been caught alive. Now lots of secrets and untold
truths have been carried to the grave."
Preetha, the widow of Harikrishna, said she was glad that the police had finally caught up with the brigand.
The November 1991 beheading of Pandillapalli Srinivas, an Indian Forest Service officer, was gruesome even by
Veerappan's tyrannical standards. Srinivas, both as the Deputy Conservator of Forests and as the head of the
operations to catch Veerappan, had undertaken a number of welfare measures in the vicinity of Gopinatham, which
endeared him to the villagers.
Srinivas hoped to reform Veerappan by requesting local villagers to boycott him. So when Veerappan sent word
through his brother Arjunan that he would surrender at a farmhouse in Gopinatham, Srinivas believed him, and met
a gruesome death.
Speaking to Frontline from Rajahmundry (in Andhra Pradesh), Srinivas' mother P. Jayalakshmi said that her son
went to meet Veerappan because he "believed in non-violence and the basic goodness of man. If my son did not
believe in ahimsa, Veerappan would have been dead long ago. He deserved the fate he met. He destroyed so many
families. Good will always prevail over evil."
Terming Veerappan a Narakasura (a demon), she added that now that he was dead, her son's soul would rest in
peace. Srinivas' father Anantha Rao said: "We always wished that Veerappan should die. All families bereaved by
the mindless violence of the Narakasura would be celebrating as we are." He confessed that the sight of his son's
headless torso would always haunt him, as that was how the forest officials had handed it over to him.
A highly respected officer, Srinivas was awarded the Kirti Chakra posthumously in 1992. A road has been named in
his memory in Rajahmundry and the colony of houses he built for the lower-level forest staff in Chickmagalur
(Karnataka) has been named after him. And the day he was killed - November 10 - is observed as Forest Martyrs
Day by the Karnataka Forest Department.
There was, however, no joy in the Kamagere (Karnataka) residence of the late H. Nagappa, the former Minister who
was kidnapped by Veerappan in August 2002. Parimala Nagappa, who was elected from her husband's constituency
- Hanur - in 2004, said that the death of Veerappan could never bring back to life any of the victims he had
butchered, nor would it lessen the grief suffered by many families. She, however, expressed relief that with the
bandit gone, village communities living along the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border could lead peaceful lives.
The extremist link
The first clear evidence of Veerappan's links with extremists was available following the abduction of
Kannada actor Rajkumar. The brigand needed men to strengthen his gang, and the latter a sanctuary.
IN life and in death forest brigand Veerappan and Tamil ultra-leftist groups made a brief common cause. One of the
three men killed along with was Sethumani. This established the nexus between Veerappan and the Tamil
ultra-leftist group Tamizhar Viduthalai Iyakkam (TVI, or Tamils' Liberation Movement), led by Suba. Ilavarasan.
The video footage of the scene at the Dharmapuri District General Hospital, where the bodies were kept, was
revealing. Somebody turned over the left arm of Sethumani, on which a "mango" and the letters "P.M.K." were
found tattooed. The mango is the symbol of the PMK or the Pattali Makkal Katchi, a political party in Tamil Nadu
led by Dr. S. Ramadoss. Sethumani was a member of the PMK before joining the TVI. Ilavarasan had earlier headed
one of the factions of another ultra-leftist organisation, the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army (TNLA). The TVI was the
third extremist group, after the Tamil National Retrieval Force (TNRF) and the TNLA, to find refuge in the forests
in the company of Veerappan. While the TNLA was led by Maran, one of the TNRF's leaders was Amudhan.
The Tamil Nadu STF had arrested Ilavarasan and his associate Saha alias Sahadevan, at Kolathur in Salem district
on May 26, ending several months of search. The police claimed that they detained them when they were trying to
sneak into the forests at a place called Adipalaru to join Veerappan. A pistol, some ammunition, plastic pipe bombs
and hand grenades were recovered from them.
On October 20, when Ilavarasan was produced in a court at Jayamkondan in Perambalur district in connection with
seven cases filed against him, the TVI leader termed as "reprehensible" the killing of Veerappan.
Although information was trickling in since 1997 that the TNRF and the TNLA were trying to establish contact with
Veerappan, it was the brigand's abduction of Kannada film actor Rajkumar in July 2000 that gave a clear idea of the
relationship - the release of seven TNRF men from prison was a condition for the actor's release. The nexus came to
light when the Tamil magazine Nakkheeran's editor, R.R. Gopal, went to the forests in the
Sathyamangalam-Thalavadi area in Tamil Nadu as the emissary of the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments to
negotiate the release of Rajkumar and three others. Gopal was accompanied by Nakkheeran reporter P.
Sivasubramanian (who was the first reporter to interview Veerappan in the forests, in April 1993) and other
The video footage brought by Gopal on his return to Chennai from his first trip in August 2000 showed a hooded
TNLA cadre in the forest. Gopal had then said: "Veerappan has changed. There are other people with him now - not
his old associates." When a reporter asked whether the TNLA was behind Veerappan, his reply was: "He has
established himself as the captain. He spoke about Che Guevara. He said he would take a decision only after
consulting the joint committee."
At one point Veerappan told Gopal: "I am fighting for the six crore people of Tamil Nadu." The reference was to the
demands he had made for Rajkumar's release, which included making Tamil the medium of instruction up to
ClassX, release of seven TNRF cadre, finding a solution to the labour problem in the Manjolai tea estate, and fixing
the minimum wage for tea and coffee estate workers in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu at Rs.150 a day.
Referring to Veerappan's demand that the Cauvery waters dispute be referred to the International Court of Justice,
the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi had said: "Somebody has tutored Veerappan." The brigand's
demands were clearly in tune with the ideology of the TNLA and the TNRF (Frontline, September 1, 2000).
It was a symbiotic relationship that existed between Veerappan on the one side, and the TNLA and the TNRF on the
other. He needed them and they needed him. The TNRF and TNLA men were on the run and needed a sanctuary and
Veerappan's guiding hand to survive. The brigand too needed men because his "mobile village" of more than 100
men and women had been reduced to about two or three under the STF onslaught. He needed men who could ensure
a fresh supply of arms and ammunition, carry his "luggage", cook food, and carry his messages to government
In an interview to the Tamil magazine Junior Vikatan, TNLA leader Maran's father said his son's first feelers to
Veerappan were rejected. "`I myself am in a bad situation now, so I cannot protect you'," Singaram quoted
Veerappan as having said. "Later, I heard that they had somehow joined hands," Singaram said (Frontline,
November 24, 2000).
As the Rajkumar abduction drama degenerated into a war of attrition between Veerappan and the two State
governments, a motely group of Tamil nationalists materialised as "ambassadors of humanitarianism" to enter the
forests and work for the actor's release. Some of them were avowed champions of Tamil nationalism. They included
P. Nedumaran, founder of the Tamil Nationalist Movement and an uncompromising supporter of the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE); Kolathur "Mani", who once belonged to the Dravidar Kazhagam and organised
training camps for LTTE cadre in his village of Kolathur near Mettur, when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister; A.P.
Shanmugasundaram, president of the Karnataka Tamilar Peravai, who, according to the police, had links with the
LTTE; Dr. Bhanu and Ramkumar, who had interests in quarrying; P. Kalyani, a sympathiser of the ultra-leftists
People's War and organiser of the State unit of the Revolutionary Cultural Movement; and G. Sugumaran, an activist
of the People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), Pondicherry.
During the final lap of the Rajkumar hostage drama, the TNLA specificially asked that Nedumaran, Kalyani and
Sugumaran be sent to negotiate the actor's release.
The TNRF was the first to forge links with Veerappan. Unlike the TNLA, the TNRF does not have any Marxist
ideology. It is a Tamil nationalist, secessionist organisation wedded to establishing a Tamil State that would span
Tamil Nadu and Eelam, which covers the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. It is a small outfit with about
a dozen members, and about three of them were trained in the use of arms by the LTTE in the Tamil areas of Sri
Under relentless police pressure after the LTTE's assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, the TNRF made overtures
to Veerappan to let it pitch a camp with him. In 1998, the TNRF managed to establish contacts with Veerappan.
Four of its members first went into the forests and stayed with him. They were Krishnamurthy, Muthukumar,
Jayaprakash and Saravanan. After some months they returned to the towns to do "field work". Next, it was the turn
of three other TNRF members, Manikandan, Sathiyamurthy and Muthukumar, to join Veerappan. They too returned
for "field work". The police arrested all them in 1998 and 2000. (In 1998, the TNRF men attacked a police station at
Vellithirupur in Erode district. Veerappan and his key associate, Sethukuli Govindan, also reportedly took part in the
In the meantime, the TNLA wangled themselves into the forests to make common cause with Veerappan. Six men
started to live with him. They included the TNLA leader Maran alias Senguttuvan; Govindaraj alias Inian; Elumalai
alias Andril; Amirthalingam alias Chezhiyan; Raju alias Selvam; and Ramesh alias Tamizh. These six men were
with Veerappan when Gopal met the brigand to negotiate Rajkumar's release.
In January 2001, the TNLA parted company with Veerappan, and its men fanned out to various parts of the State.
However, by June 2001 except Ramesh the police arrested all the TNLA men who had been with Veerappan. But
Alappakkam Murugesan of the TNRF is still absconding.
It was then the turn of the TVI cadre to get into the forests. Ilavarasan's men were allegedly involved in Veerappan's
abduction of former Karnataka Minister H. Nagappa in 2002.
How he made his pile
ALTHOUGH Veerappan was notorious for poaching elephants for ivory and looting forests for sandalwood, actual
figures relating to both crimes have, according to experts, been grossly exaggerated. And although his crimes have
caused immeasurable ecological damage, he and his gang made more money from extortion and kidnapping.
Contrary to media reports, Veerappan did not kill 2,000 elephants. The figure is more representative of the number
of tuskers (male elephants) killed in the entire peninsular region over a period of 25 years by various poachers.
Neither did he make crores of rupees through sandalwood smuggling.
According to Raman Sukumar, one of the world's leading authorities on Asian elephants, it is more likely that the
bandit and his gang were directly involved in the killing of a few hundred elephants, maybe 500-odd. However, the
tendency in the past two decades when Veerappan became a dreaded name in very household in the trijunction of
Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu has been to blame the death of every tusker on him. Initiated into the crime by
the poacher Sevi Gounder in the late 1960s, Veerappan reached the zenith of poaching during the 1980s, with tusks
of elephants in the Erode, Dharmapuri, Satyamangalam, Chamarajanagar and Kollegal forests, and also those on the
fringes of the Niligiri coming under his saw. Very rarely did he venture into the Western Ghats to poach.
There is little doubt that he did make money from ivory and sandalwood. According to Sukumar, the mean tusk
weight during the late 1970s and early 1980s was around 20 kg a tusker (two tusks) and the weight, thanks to intense
poaching of adolescent tuskers, had dropped to around 10 kg an elephant by the late 1980s. In 1980, the price of raw
ivory in the open market was around Rs.1,300 a kg; in 1989 (when the international ban on ivory finally came into
effect), it had crossed Rs.3,000; by 1995 it was Rs.5,000; and by 1996 it was Rs.10,000. (Today it hovers around
A conservative estimate would mean an average tusk weight of 15 kg an elephant. The amount of raw ivory that the
Veerappan gang would have sawn off if it had poached 500 elephants would be above 7,500 kg. Taking an average
price of Rs.3,000 a kg, it would translate into a monetary value of Rs.2.25 crores. And even half that amount - since
a good portion of the sale proceeds would have been swallowed by middlemen - would have been a princely sum in
the 1980s and early 1990s. (There are indications that the number of elephants killed by the Veerappan gang during
the past eight to 10 years is negligible.) Living almost exclusively in the forests, Veerappan's living expenses would
have been at the barest minimum. A portion of the ill-gotten wealth would have gone towards buying provisions,
tents, guns and ammunition. Where he hid the rest, or who took the money are questions that may never be
Police informants told Frontline that Veerappan had used a major part of his money to buy political protection. The
bandit also allegedly bankrolled the political campaigns of quite a few politicians. According to people living in the
many villages that dot the forest, he had campaigned on behalf of candidates belonging to the Vanniyar community
on more than one occasion. Residents of Gopinatham told this correspondent that he had "humbly" wooed voters
there with betel leaves and arecanuts for a now deceased Congress politician.
Veerappan is said to have sold most of the ivory he poached to traders in Kerala, from where it found its way to
According to Sukumar, poaching by the Veerappan gang and others gradually picked up in the late 1970s and
peaked in 1987, a period when up to 150 tuskers were slaughtered every year. "The international ban on ivory had
brought down the number of elephants poached. But the figure again rose to a peak in 1996. Today the number of
tuskers poached every year in South India may be 20 to 30." He says, "In a normal elephant population, adult males
make up 12 to 15 per cent of the total elephants. The selective removal of tuskers has brought down the numbers
drastically. Today there are around 14,000 elephants in South India, but there are hardly 500 adult males. And
among these you also have males that do not have tusks."
Felling sandalwood stumps was certainly easier and more lucrative than poaching. In the 1970s, sandalwood fetched
Rs.100 a kg. Now it is worth Rs.600-800 a kg. According to the tribal people, Veerappan used to sit atop lorries
stacked with smuggled sandalwood and lead the way, a gun nestled in his lap. However, the actual amount of
sandalwood that was directly smuggled by Veerappan or his gang is unknown.
Said A.S. Sadashiviah, a retired Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) from Karnataka, who was the
Working Plan Officer of the Mysore Division in 1972: "Even in the 1970s, when we surveyed forests in
Chamarajanagar, Kollegal and Nagarhole (all in Karnataka), we could hardly find sandalwood trees of the size or
quantum that could have fetched crores and crores of rupees. However, the yield was better in the Satyamangalam
(Tamil Nadu) forests. What Veerappan did was to use the Karnataka forests (given their isolation and Veerappan's
own intricate knowledge of them) to store and then transport the logs to Kerala."
However, K.S.N. Chikkerur, Inspector-General of Police (Forest Cell), Karnataka, disagrees. He cites the seizure of
sandalwood worth over Rs.1 crore in 1990 in the Sylvekal forests (close to the Malai Mahadeshwara Hills). Rangers
who served in the area also vouched that there was a large quantity of sandalwood in the area.
Foresters like S. Subbarayalu, a retired PCCF from Tamil Nadu, are firmly of the view that Veerappan's smuggling
activities were not the only reason for the depletion of sandalwood trees in the forests of the two States. According
to him, "Sandalwood does not regenerate easily. The seed disposal is poor, and factors such as rainfall and soil
conditions have to be favourable for it to regenerate. When we did a survey on the Tamil Nadu side we did not even
find [naturally generated] sandalwood saplings or seedlings. This is a stage that no one will cut them, so if they had
regenerated we would have found them."
Sadashiviah, who was the Conservator of Forests, Mysore, when Veerappan beheaded his fellow forest official P.
Srinivas in November 1990, added that it was quarry owners (in Karnataka) who were Veerappan's biggest
paymasters. "They had to protect their illegal operations as most of them quarried granite from revenue and forest
lands," he said.
The Karnataka government banned quarrying in over 55 quarries in the M.M. Hills and Kollegal areas in 1993 after
Veerappan and his gang allegedly detonated explosives near the Palar bridge killing 22 policemen. It was hoped that
a ban on quarrying would seal off one of the brigand's biggest sources of income, and also prevent explosives from
falling into his hands.
Veerappan was certainly no friend of wildlife, but had unwittingly played the role of a conservator. He was
instrumental in killing leopards, sambar, deer and monitor lizards, all for their meat. But ironically, quite a few
forest officials found Veerappan's presence in the forests as a help to keep away other poachers and timber
smugglers. There are already indications that a number of fortune hunters have sneaked into some of the forests that
were hitherto no-go areas, prompting the Tamil Nadu Forest Department to ban unauthorised entry into the Bargur
and Satyamangalam forests. Said an officer: "The fear of Veerappan protected the forests from small-time criminals
who would have otherwise degraded it continuously." .
While the sandalwood reserves have almost been exhausted in the Sathyamangalam-Bargur-Kollegal forests, timber
and medicinal plants could be a major attraction to new adventurers, especially the Kerala timber mafia that has
been active in these forests for decades.