Three witnesses were present at site; 2 others claim convicts were with them when blast occurred

In a development that might provide some hope to the four men on death row in connection with the April 9, 1993 Palar blast case, five persons have come forward after 20 years with testimonies that contest the grounds on which the convicts were sentenced to death.

Slain forest brigand Veerappan was the mastermind behind the Palar blast which resulted in the death of 22 people, including five Tamil Nadu Special Task Force personnel. Of the 100 accused in the case, the death sentence was handed out to four — Simon, Billavendran, Meesekara Madaiah and Jnanaprakash.

Their conviction has been challenged in a petition filed before the Supreme Court earlier this week, seeking the reopening of the case on the basis of new evidence.

The fresh affidavits have been filed by blast survivor and special police officer A. Clemence (61), blast survivor and Tamil Nadu Special Task Force’s forest tracker Irusar (62), retired Karnataka police sub-inspector and former Special Task Force trooper Puttamalachar (63), Catholic priest and Jnanaprakash’s former employer, Father Vincent D’Souza (73), and Billavendran’s friend and former employer S. Ganesan (59).

All of the new witnesses have contested the claim of blast survivor and former Tamil Nadu IPS officer K. Gopalakrishnan that he saw the four men running away after triggering the explosion.

Why so late?

Each of these persons provided different explanations for remaining silent for more than 20 years.

“I was listed as a witness but when I appeared in court, I was not asked anything,” said Mr. Irusar.

“When the case came up for hearing [at the Mysore TADA court], everything was in Kannada. I could not understand anything. I was under pressure and just nodded to whatever was said in court,” said Mr. Clemence.

Mr. Puttamalachar said he was never called to testify before the court. “I was also scared to come forward on my own because I was still in service,” he said.

Fr. D’Souza and Mr. Ganesan said they were never approached for their version and were scared of the consequences of coming out in the open.

The witnesses have come forward now with the support of K. John Don Bosco, a social worker.

“I was standing on the footboard of the lead vehicle along with ‘Rambo’ Gopalakrishnan [K. Gopalakrishnan] when the bomb exploded. I landed 50 feet away. There was no way he [Gopalakrishnan] could have seen anything. He was badly injured and unconscious,” said Mr. Clemence, who is also Mr. Gopalakrishnan’s childhood friend and was his personal bodyguard during the combing operations.

The petitioners believe that his is the strongest affidavit among the five.

“Nobody could have seen anything through the dust and smoke,” said Mr. Irusar.

“Jnanaprakash was a gardener in my church at Thomarapalyam. He lived in the church with his family. The blast occurred on Good Friday. He was present at the Church and was helping me arrange for the Good Friday programme,” asserted Fr. D’Souza.

Mr. Ganesan said, “Billavendran was with me on the day of the blast, working on the farm with his wife and children. He and I knew discovered about the blast together when we watched television. There has been a horrible mix-up.”

Mr. Bosco said that the entire case was based on the testimony of Mr. Gopalakrishnan. “The prosecution did not use one civilian testimony. Although there were civilian eyewitnesses, only police officers testified in court.”

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