Munnar mission has a new champion in IAS officer Sriram Venkitaraman as he takes on Kerala's land mafia
The courage Sriram Venkitaraman has shown in taking on the land mafia — which has grabbed large tracts of land in ecologically fragile Munnar in the hill district of Idukki — in his role as Devikulam sub-collector has stirred a hornet’s nest in his home state of Kerala.
The stronger and bolder platform that Indian Administrative Service (IAS) provides was the motivation Sriram Venkitaraman felt when he decided to drop a lucrative medical career and opt for the civil services.
The courage he has shown in taking on the land mafia — which has grabbed large tracts of land in ecologically fragile Munnar in the hill district of Idukki — in his role as Devikulam sub-collector has stirred a hornet’s nest in his home state of Kerala.
While local leaders of Communist Party of India (Marxist), which leads the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), tried to physically block him and his team from clearing the encroachments and hurled abuses at him, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan restrained him from going ahead with the mission.
However, this has not deterred the 31-year-old IAS officer, who made the state proud by securing second rank in the civil services examination in 2013. He told Firstpost that he has nothing to fear as long as he was implementing the law of the land.
But he must not realise that the law of the land in Idukki is the CPI(M) strongman and Electricity Minister MM Mani, who wanted Venkitaraman to be sent to a mental asylum. Mani, who took on the young officer after the chief minister directed the Idukki district administration to consult him before evicting any further encroachments, does not view encroachment as a serious issue in Idukki.
Mani’s party men had tried to foil the eviction drive from the very beginning by staging agitations and preventing the officials from removing the encroachments. The demolition of a cross erected by a Christian evangelical group on encroached land at Chinnakkanal near Munnar two weeks ago came handy to them in implementing their agenda.
The chief minister backed his party men by directing the district administration to halt eviction until an all-party meeting considered the issue. However, Vijayan has not made any attempt to convene the meeting so far. On the contrary, he has made it clear that the government will not allow any official to act according to their whims and fancies.
“Officials are supposed to implement the government decisions. Those who are not ready to abide by the government orders will have no place in the government service,” he told the State Assembly on Wednesday.
Environmentalists view this as a strong signal for the Idukki district administration to stop the eviction. Venkitaraman, however, has dismissed this as media interpretation. He said that he had not received any written communication from the government in this regard. “I have a direct line of communication with the chief minister. He has not told me anything,” he said.
Venkitaraman indicated that he will go ahead with the mission within the framework of the law and as per directions of the government. He said that as a government servant he is bound to go by the directions of the government adding that he has no issue with that. He is apparently confident that the government cannot give him a written order to stop the eviction as it is against the law.
When reminded about the fate of senior officer Raju Narayanaswamy, who was shunted to insignificant positions after he waged a war against corruption, Venkitaraman said that he was ready to accept any responsibility that the government give him.
“Transfers are part of the government service. I am not afraid of them. I believe that every role offers scope to government servants to work according to their convictions,” Venkitaraman said while referring to 20 transfers faced by IAS topper of 1991 Rajunarayanaswamy, within a span of 22 years.
“I am not personally affected by the current controversy. I am very much comfortable with the situation in which I function. I don’t feel any pressure. I don’t have to feel so, since the Constitution has safeguards to protect the officers who act in good faith,” he added.
The young IAS officer said that he had anticipated obstacles when he launched the eviction drive. “It is an organised activity going on unhindered in Idukki district for a long time. People encroach on the land and legalise it by managing survey number and other documents. It is not easy to evict them,” he said.
Noted environmentalist Advocate Harish Vasudevan, who had several interactions with the young officer, said Venkitaraman was capable of clearing the mess in Munnar. He told Firstpost that he could sense his courage in several reports he filed in the high court against the encroachments.
“The high court had rejected the pleas against evictions because of these reports. Venkitaraman means business. He has not even spared the local MP, who was elected to the Lok Sabha with the CPI(M) support. The notice he served to the MP Joyce George too has rattled the party,” Harish said.
Bureaucrat-turned politician Alphonse Kannamthanam, who razed thousands of illegal constructions in New Delhi while working as commissioner of Delhi Development Authority, has a piece of advice for the young IAS officer.
“Don’t bend your backbone. You should not allow cheap politicians to use you as their doormat. The civil service was created by the Constitution to fulfill the aspirations of the people after the Independence,” said Alphonse, who got the nickname ‘Demolition Man’ after the Delhi eviction drive.
Venkitaraman, who cleared the civil service examination in his second attempt, had no plan to join IAS while he was studying in the school and later in Trivandrum Medical College for MBBS. The idea dawned upon him after a conversation on Facebook with an old school friend, who prepared for the UPSC examination.
He cleared the examination while he was pursuing MD in Shri Ramachandra Bhanj Medical College in Cuttack, Orissa. He dropped the course and went to Mussorie for the training. In an interview to Rediff.com after clearing the examination, he said that his biggest concern was increasing corruption, bad governance, lack of transparency and social apathy.
His family lives in Kochi. His father, Dr P R Venkitaraman, is a professor of zoology and mother Rajam Ramamoorthy works in a bank. His sister Lakshmi is pursuing a medical internship at Amala Medical College, Thrissur.
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