Coimbatore student dies during 'NDMA' drill: Tamil Nadu college fell for imposter's bluff, reveals probe

The email correspondence between the Kovai Kalaimagal College of Arts and Science and an official of the National Disaster Management Authority between 27 June and 3 July, 2018 states that "Mr Arumugam, M.Com, M.Sc, B.ed, M.Phil, D.D.M (Ph.D) will conduct a programme on disaster management and first aid at the college on 12 July". The letter is written by Training officer, Disaster Management Authority.

The Dean of the college, Vijayalakshmi should have felt suspicious that the 'training officer' who she is corresponding with, did not identify himself. He however, mentioned his phone number. Truecaller lists this number as that of G Arumugam, indicating that this 'National Disaster Management Authority' was a one-man show, where Arumugam as the training officer, was pushing the case of Arumugam, the programme conductor.

 Coimbatore student dies during NDMA drill: Tamil Nadu college fell for imposters bluff, reveals probe

Screenshot of Kovai Kalaimagal College of Arts and Science in Coimbatore where the incident happened. Screengrab from college website

The college was led to believe that the NDMA was conducting the fire drill. Which is why on 11 July, it sent out a letter to both Tamil and English newspapers to publish news about the drill by the NDMA training officer, Arumugam from 9:30 am. That letter also states that the programme was organised by National Service Scheme, which a public service programme sponsored by the Government of India and conducted by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.

But now, the NDMA has clarified that it was not involved in the drill and that the trainer was not authorised by it. It means Arumugam was an imposter who was misusing the NDMA logo and using an alphabet soup of degrees to impress the college management that he was a Government of India representative. Today, he has on his hands, the blood of 19-year-old Logeswari as a result of the drill going horribly wrong.

On Thursday afternoon, the reluctant BBA second year student was pushed off the parapet of the second floor as part of the disaster drill even as a group of students held some kind of a safety sheet to catch her below. But Logeswari hit the sunshade on the ground floor and was seriously injured. By the time she was rushed to hospital, she was declared dead.

In fact, Arumugam's Facebook profile is called 'Arumugam NDMA', obviously to emphasise his NDMA connect. He describes himself as a trainer at NDMA, a job he claims to have joined in 2011. The page contains several photographs of lectures and training sessions with college students.

The Tamil Nadu government has washed its hands off the tragedy, by saying that the NCC, the Coimbatore collector or the State Disaster Management Authority were not involved in the drill. Proof has emerged that this is not the first time Arumugam has conducted such a programme. He claims to have done 1,275 drills so far in the last six years with over five lakh students in Tamil Nadu. It means no one was aware that Arumugam was impersonating as a NDMA official and no institution did background checks either.

What could have been the motive? Though Arumugam does not charge any money from the college, he offers a workshop certificate for Rs 50 each, which he claims can be used for employment. With over 400 students in most colleges, that would translate into easy money.

Arumugam has now been arrested and charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The police will also check as part of the probe if he was carrying out a fraud for the past seven years. A letter signed by him in May 2017 on the NDMA letterhead lists a gmail ID of NDMA Tamil Nadu, a clear giveaway that he was pretending to be a government-backed trainer.

M Sasidhar Reddy, who was vice-chairman of the NDMA till 2014, says no one is asked to jump off from a higher floor during a mock drill.

"The standard procedure is to conduct such mock drills by keeping the State Disaster Management Authority and the district officials in the loop. In fact, the NDRF personnel simulate different techniques of transporting people to the ground, using stretchers and harness and never in this crude manner," says Reddy.

Incidentally, this is not the first time anyone has impersonated as a NDMA personnel. Reddy recalls that a lady had appeared on a television show on a national channel calling herself 'Member, NDMA'.

"The NDMA had filed a police complaint against her for impersonation," says Reddy.

In a bid to protect itself, the college has taken the line that it was approached by this officer of the NDMA and therefore he was permitted to do a drill in good faith.

"The intent seems noble but you need skilled people to conduct it. Being trained to jump seems a bit weird," says Uday Vijayan, who set up the Beyond Carlton Trust after the fire tragedy at Carlton Towers in 2010 in Bengaluru in which nine people lost their lives.

The question is, can the college be prosecuted for not doing background checks on Arumugam and getting convinced by his fake claims? After all, the institution is expected to ensure safety of the students during the time they are at the school or college. The institution is politically well connected, raising doubts over whether any action will be taken against it.

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Updated Date: Jul 13, 2018 19:53:06 IST