In the quaint hamlet of Gopinatham, located in Karnataka’s Chamarajanagar district, the name of P Srinivas, the IFS officer was martyred in a brutal assassination by Veerappan on 10 November 1991 still reverberates in the hearts of the villagers. He followed the Ideology of “Birth for Forest,Life for Forest,Death for forest”. He who is famously called as “Abhimanyu of Karnataka Forest Department”
Born in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh on 12 September 1954, Pandillapalli Srinivas was the eldest son of Anant Rao and Jayalaxmi. A brilliant student throughout school and college, he topped his Masters’ course at Andhra University and passed the Indian Forest Service examination in 1979. After being recruited in the Karnataka cadre, his first posting as Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF) in Chamarajanagar brought him in close quarters with Veerappan, at a time when the latter was only a small-scale ivory poacher.
As ACF, Srinivas drew up a foolproof plan to capture all the poachers and smugglers active in the forests of Karnataka. He even compiled a comprehensive directory about each miscreant and circulated their photographs in public, sealing all the safety valves for their escape. His strategies proved impeccable and led to the interception of a considerable number of smugglers and poachers. Soon, Srinivas was promoted to the rank of Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF) in Chamarajanagar. When the nation’s focus was on the ongoing SAARC summit in Bangalore on November 16–17, 1986, he completed a daunting operation and successfully caught Veerappan.
Over a series of rigorous interrogations, Veerappan, who was confined at the Budipadaga Forest Rest House, happened to divulge some of the major lairs of his notorious gang and the smuggled sandalwood. Based on the information, Srinivas single-handedly raided many of his lairs across Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, amassing large amounts of stolen sandalwood. However, Veerappan managed to sneak out and escape the forest rest house in Srinivas’s absence, when he was out on one such raid. Despite it being a lapse on the part of security officials, Srinivas took the blame upon himself and set out to bring Veerappan to justice. He stood out among his predecessors with his inclusive approach—by befriending the local villagers and seeking their help in his mission. Srinivas was the first officer to break the invisible barriers and mingle with the villagers; even training and engaging them in his discreet operations.
The growing popularity of Srinivas in his native village upset Veerappan, as he now found villagers volunteering as informants and soldiers for Srinivas. To send out a warning, Veerappan murdered some of the local informants and hanged their severed heads in the village. The villagers were shocked to the core, but Srinivas stayed unflinching from his objective. He rehabilitated several dacoits and smugglers by providing them with alternative employment opportunities and even managed to integrate former gang members of Veerappan into mainstream work. His approach had such a far-reaching impact that in 1990, several associates of Veerappan surrendered before him. Srinivas ensured all of them were released after trial and got rehabilitated. Srinivas unfailingly nurtured his philanthropic side, which brought him closer to the grassroots. He created elaborate drinking water facilities in remote tribal villages, built roads to inaccessible hamlets and also started a mobile dispensary in Gopinatham. Using his savings, he built houses for homeless tribals.
While society hailed Srinivas as a true social reformer, t e notorious criminal took the worst advantage of it. In the morning of 9 November 1991, Srinivas received a wireless message that Veerappan had decided to surrender under the condition that Srinivas would meet him personally, unarmed and unaccompanied by guards. A believer in the goodness of people, Srinivas set out towards Veerappan’s alleged den. Alone and unarmed, Srinivas was crossing a 6-km wide creek the next morning, when Veerappan’s men fatally shot and later beheaded him. He died at the prime of his youth, barely two months after turning 37.
He was posthumously awarded the Kirti Chakra on 26 January 1992. P Srinivas might be a forgotten chapter in India’s history, but his life and work continue to resonate in the forest lores of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. His legacy lives on among the villagers, who remain his most loyal admirers.