Veerappan ready to settle for ransom to general amnesty
The hostage crisis has taken a new turn with sandalwood smuggler Veerappan demanding a ransom of Rs 50 million as an alternative to general amnesty for releasing the remaining eight Karnataka forest personnel held by him since July 12.
Disclosing this, Tamil Nadu government emissary and Nakkeeran editor R Gopal, who met Veerappan in his hideout in the jungles in a second bid to secure the release of the hostages, said Veerappan had set August 15 as the deadline for the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments to concede his new demand.
Gopal had secured the release of one hostage, forest guard Raju, and presented him before Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi on Wednesday. Raju, who was sick, was admitted to a hospital in Madras.
Gopal said he had conveyed Veerappan's fresh demand to Karunanidhi, during their meeting on Wednesday evening and the latter had told him that he would discuss the matter with his Karnataka counterpart J H Patel before taking a decision.
Asked whether he would undertake another mission, a visibly dejected Gopal said he was keen on saving the lives of the remaining eight hostages. His third mission would depend on the two governments' assurance on the total withdrawal of the special task force personnel from the forest area.
Gopal said Veerappan had initially stuck to his general amnesty demand and when he managed to convince the latter that it was impossible to concede, especially when there was no provision in the law, the brigand said: "Then let the governments pay Rs five crores (Rs 50 million) and secure their release".
In a video cassette shown to newsmen, Veerappan says, "The governments have fixed a price for my head and let them pay a price for the hostages if they are not able to grant me general amnesty".
When Gopal tried to convince him that the governments could not pay ransom, Veerappan quipped: "Then let them come and collect the heads of the hostages"
The emissary again pleaded with him not to harm the hostages and assured the hostages that he would do his best to secure their release. Gopal said Veerappan outright rejected the two governments' offer to provide security to his life and the lives of his men on surrender, transfer all cases pending against them from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu and set up a special court to try the cases in Tamil Nadu.
The fugitive expressed apprehension that he would ultimately land in prison.
Gopal, who spent a night with the hostages said all of them were living in a state of terror and losing hope as each day passed. The hostages, who had not been ill-treated, were handcuffed and chained after Veerappan heard over the All India Radio that the two governments had ruled out grant of general amnesty to him on July 27.
An enraged Veerappan had even taken two of the hostages for beheading, but was stopped by his deputy, Sellukuzhi Govindan, Gopal said. He said the hostages were made to trek the whole night and
had so far been shifted 17 times. Raju, the released hostage, was bed-ridden when he met them and Veerappan took nearly six hours to agree to his plea to release him, Gopal said.
The fugitive had told Gopal sarcastically that the two governments might try to secure the release of the hostages one by one during each visit of the emissary. Veerappan warned that he would not release any of the remaining hostages unless his demand was met.
"Let the President announce general amnesty. I will release all the hostages tomorrow (on Thursday) itself," Gopal quoted Veerappan as saying in the video-recorded interview.
Gopal asked why Veerappan had pleaded for general amnesty when he wanted ransom. The smuggler replied, "I thought I could lead a normal life and do something good for the people of Tamil Nadu by supporting 'Kalaignar' (Karunanidhi). If I am denied the chance, I prefer to remain in forest. After all, I was born and brought up in the forest. I have never visited Madras nor travelled in an aircraft.
"When so many police and forest officials who have ruined the lives of innocent people can lead a normal life, why can't I," he asked.
When it was pointed out that someone in Karnataka had already moved the high court opposing grant of amnesty to him, Veerappan said that was why he wanted the President to sign the general amnesty offer. "If the President grants amnesty, nobody can do anything," he says.
If the government could amend the laws for launching "Operation Veerappan" and deploy the army to nab him, "Why can't it amend the same law to grant me amnesty," he argues.
Gopal, who had also spoken to five of Veerappan's lieutenants, said all of them preferred to remain in the forests than be imprisoned.
Meanwhile, Karnataka Home Commissioner N A Muthanna and Director General of Police T Srinivasulu rushed to Madras on Thursday to hold further consultations with Tamil Nadu officials about Veerappan's new demands.
Official sources said the two senior officers had discussed the matter with Chief Minister J H Patel and Forests Minister Gurupadappa Nagmarpalli on Thursday morning about the developments before leaving for Madras.
Patel is likely to discuss the hostages crisis with Karunanidhi later on Thursday, Nagmarpalli said.
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