ALEM: A 45-year-old man, Saravanan Gounder, believed to have fashioned himself after dreaded sandalwood bandit Veerappan, was arrested by the Salem police on Wednesday morning and is likely to be released later. Across the border in Karnataka, police and forest officials, who had launched a week-long operation to nab the man, are likely to pick him up. Tamil Nadu forest officials and Karnataka police had been searching for Saravanan Gounder, who earned the nickname ‘junior’ Veerappan after he allegedly poached six tuskers and spread fear in the region with threats and intimidation. He was picked up on Tuesday for questioning and arrested.
“We arrested him on Wednesday under section 109 (security for good behaviour) of the CrPC and will produce him before the Mettur sub-collector (on Wednesday). He will be released on bail with the consent of the sub-collector after he executes a bond for good behaviour with two sureties,” Salem district superintendent of police R Sakthivel told TOI. While the Karnataka police claimed they had launched an operation to track down Saravanan for the past one week, Sakthivel said he came to know about such an operation only on Tuesday.
“In Tamil Nadu, he has a case against him under the Arms Act for illegal possession of weapons (registered in 2012) and some minor theft cases,” Sakthivel said. But, across the borders, in Karnataka, Gounder appears to have earned the notorious reputation of ‘junior’ Veerappan and accused of having killed six elephants for their tusks within a span of one year. The Karnataka police, sources said, are waiting to arrest him.
“Saravanan and his gang, comprising 20 men, attacked forest guards and escaped from Karnataka forests to Tamil Nadu, few days ago. We have launched a manhunt for him and his gang,” said an official from Karnataka forest department, not willing to be named. He said a team of officials comprising the Karnataka Special Task Force (STF) and a small contingent from the Tiger Task Force in Bannerghatta had combed the Malai Madeshwaran hills Wildlife Sanctuary area for the past one week. “We got a tip-off that Saravanan was hiding in his village, following which we sought the support of Tamil Nadu police,” he said.
“He is a history-sheeter on our records and doesn’t seem to me to be a dreaded bandit. He was available in his village Oonjakkarai near Mettur, where he lives with his wife and three children,” Sakthivel said. “But, we will cooperate with the Karnataka police,” he added. The Tamil Nadu forest department had obtained a non-bailable arrest warrant against Saravanan from the Mettur judicial magistrate in connection with a 2010 case where two men were caught with an elephant tusk in their possession. Two others, who were part of the gang, including Saravanan, had managed to escape.