Catch me if you can

In a chilling reminder of his prowess as an outlaw, sandalwood smuggler and poacher Veerappan and his gang exploded an electronic landmine, which destroyed a van carrying members of a task force set up specially to nab him. Twenty-two policemen died in the April 9 explosion at, which occurred less than two weeks after Karnataka chief minister Veerappa Moily announced a new strategy had been evolved in cooperation with Tamil Nadu to hunt down the desperado who has till now killed 44 policemen.

Following the blast, Moily and Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha reaffirmed their resolve to crack down on Veerappan by jointly announcing a reward of Rs 40 lakh for his arrest. Veerappan observers, however, were doubtful the plan would succeed because Veerappan can hide out in the vast 6,000-sq-km Palar and the Satyamangalam forest range spanning the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border and is said to have an extensive intelligence network among the forest tribals, who are disgruntled because the forest management policies of both states have steadily eroded their rights over local resources. For example, while the Karnataka government zealously allows paper mills to take away bamboo from its forests at ludicrously low prices, tribal basket-weavers have to pay rates that are higher and they are barred from cutting down the bamboo themselves. Veerappan's illegal poaching activities provide many of them with a readier livelihood.

Task force officials are confident they can turn the tables on Veerappan, using his own methods: They intend to implement a training programme in guerilla warfare.