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India's biggest, costliest manhunt

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Last updated on: October 20, 2004 09:06 IST

The curtains have finally come down on the longest and costliest manhunt in India's history. But how much has it cost the governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to hunt the bandit Veerappan in the Satyamangalam forest ranges over nearly 20 years?

There is no official estimate of the money spent chasing Veerappan. But officials in the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments say the cost could cross Rs 100 crore.

Last year, former Karnataka chief minister S M Krishna had said the two states together were spending roughly Rs 5 crore annually to hunt the bandit since 1990. That brings the total cost to Rs 70 crore till date.

But the Tamil Nadu government gave a different figure early this year, when it announced that it had spent more than Rs 41 crore on the hunt since 1996. In fact, the Tamil Nadu government is believed to have set up a secret fund from which the Special Task Force was free to draw any amount to distribute among local people and gain their confidence.

"I am sure even the Karnataka government had such an STF fund," a retired police officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre said. "Such funds are not audited. Therefore, the cost of hunting Veerappan cannot easily be ascertained, but certainly it is huge and the biggest in Indian history."

That is one point all officials are agreed upon – that the hunt was India's biggest and most expensive. The only time Veerappan was put in jail was in 1986; but he soon escaped killing four policemen.

Since 1990, the special task forces set up by the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka police have consisted of more than 1,500 officers and personnel. In between, the Border Security Force conducted two highly publicised but ineffective campaigns in the Satyamangalam forests to nab Veerappan. The cost of these operations was borne by the central government.

Veerappan's last major criminal act was the abduction in 2002 of former Karnataka minister H Nagappa, who later died in his custody. Two years earlier, the bandit had abducted Kannada matinee idol Rajakumar and held him for 108 days. Reports have since suggested that the Government of Karnataka secured his release by paying as much as Rs 40 crore as ransom through mediators.

George Iype in Cochin