Former SP who led assault team of the STF targeted in the Palar landmine blast recalls the crime that claimed 22 lives

The rejection of mercy petitions of the four associates of slain forest brigand Veerappan involved in the Palar landmine blast case of April 9, 1993, drew a note of satisfaction from the police officer who led a patrol team and survived serious injuries in the blast.

“Though it has come very late, it definitely brings a sense of satisfaction as compensation for the 22 lives lost,” said K. Gopalakrishnan, a former SP who led the assault team of the STF.

Four convicts -- Gnanaprakasam, Bilavendra, Meesai Madhaiah and Simon – were informed on Wednesday in the Belgaum prison that their mercy petitions had been rejected by the President.

Mr. Gopalakrishnan was STF SP in 1993 when the tragedy took place. On retirement, he has now settled down in Mettur very close to the place where the landmine blast took place.

Apart from the loss of 22 lives, many other injured persons gradually lost their health and met with early deaths because of the gravity of the injuries suffered in the landmine blast, he said.

Narrating the incident, he said that during a combing operation in Andhiyur forests, on the night of April 7, 1993, STF got information that an informant, Sadayan, was killed in Gopinatham, the native village of the forest brigand.

A banner, reportedly kept by Veerappan in the shandy in the nearby village on April 8, 1993, challenged STF to take him head-on. “Considering the distance that the accused could have travelled, we took the challenge and ventured into the terrain known as Sorakkamadu across the river Palar in Karnataka limits,” Mr. Gopalakrishnan recalled.

The team comprised 15 informers, two watchers from the forest department and 14 policemen. “I was on the footboard of the first jeep known as assault vehicle equipped with an AK 47 assault rifle and reinforcements came in as support in the vehicles that followed at a distance. Hardly minutes before reaching the spot, I noticed unnatural undulations on the road surface on hostile terrain and asked the driver to stop the jeep. But, the Karnataka police jeep driver who was not able to understand the instruction given in Tamil chose to accelerate and the jeep ran over the landmine”.

President of Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam Kolathur Mani said the four convicts were victims of circumstances. He recalled that the Special Court for TADA cases observed that it was a rarest of rare and gravest of grave offences, given the number of people killed in the landmine blast. However, the court refused to award capital punishment because they were not the prime accused.

Of the 124 arrested under charges of TADA, 117 were acquitted and released and seven were given life terms. Of the three cases that were taken on appeal by the Supreme Court, all the seven were acquitted and released in two cases. Even these four death row convicts were acquitted in the remaining two cases, but given the death sentence only in this case by the Supreme Court in 2004, he said.

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