Veerappan is popular...

Why is Veerappan popular with the residents of some 175 villages from where he operates? Simply because he not only gives them employment, but also facilitates smuggling of small amount of sandalwood in the nearby Salem market in Tamil Nadu. Considering that he has not been actively involved with smuggling of sandalwood in the last one year, he now encourages local people to sell a few kilogrammes (kg) of the wood in the local market. "Veerappan has taught the people the value of the wood," says a programme officer of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in Mysore.

Earlier, the local people were scared of taking up this activity, but once Veerappan gave them protection it has been easy for them to smuggle between 5-10 kg of sandalwood along with other minor forest produce for sale. This is a common sight in Thaliwadi in Tamil Nadu's Erode district."Of course, forest officials are paid bribe and usually they don't catch the local villagers because of the fear of Veerappan," says the programme officer. "Now people are using Veerappan's name to threaten forest guards," says a forest range officer.

For the local inhabitants of the forests, Veerappan gives money for identifying and cutting sandalwood trees. According to forest department sources in Mysore range, he pays Rs 10 identifying and Rs 25 for felling a tree. On an average a person can earn around Rs 100 per day. "His Robin Hood-like image is true in these villages," says a student of Tamil Nadu Agriculture University who is doing research on forestry in all these villages.

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