On September 12, 2015, IAS officer U Sagayam spent a night at a cemetery in Madurai district. The officer had refused to leave the cemetery as skeletons of people believed to have been sacrificed by quarry operators were being exhumed. By the next day, a picture of Sagayam sleeping on a cot in the cemetery had gone viral in Tamil Nadu. Five years after this image cemented Sagayam's image as a bureaucrat fighting corruption, he has opted for voluntary retirement, and this was a decision taken out of sheer frustration, says a source close to him.
"For the last six years he has been the Vice Chairman of Science City and not got any other posting. An officer of his calibre is heading a department with just eight other people and does not even have a Rs 2 crore budget. The government has ensured that he becomes redundant and he is frustrated," the source told TNM.
Till 2014, Sagayam was known as the officer who was often transferred for speaking inconvenient truths. In his service of 23 years till then, he has been shunted 25 times. In September 2014, this became a bigger row as he was transferred twice in two days. From the Co-optex department that he had headed, he was shifted as Commissioner of Indian Medicine and Homeopathy. Two days later, he was made Vice Chairman of Science City and all this because he stood up to an AIADMK minister.
"Though the HC gave him the duty to file a report on granite mining, the government has not utilised him in any manner. The last straw was the pandemic. He waited to see if he would be included in any of the committees comprising IAS officers to combat the spread of the disease, but the government kept him out," the source said.
The Madras High Court appointed Sagayam to investigate illegal granite mining in the state after it was revealed that the IAS officer had sent a report to the government in this regard. However, instead of using the report, the government had posted him in the Co optex Department, perhaps in the hopes of burying the report forever.
A year later in November 2015, Sagayam told the High Court that the state may have incurred losses of Rs 1.1 lakh crore due to illegal mining, but this figure was contested by the state.
"He did his part and submitted the report. It is now upon authorities to act on it," the source said.
So is the IAS officer looking to enter politics? "These are all just speculations at this stage, all I know is that he did not want to continue and therefore submitted his VRS on October 2, which is Gandhi Jayanti. His first mission would be to train young leaders and other things will happen as and when they should," the source said.
But why did the officer, who has three more years in service, not wait until elections in case there would be a change in regime. "There is no guarantee on how the next government will behave and one cannot wait for that," the source said. In 2011, Sagayam who was the Collector of Madurai, along with other officers had clamped down on bribes during the Assembly elections, and even filed a case against MK Alagiri, the son of late M Karunanidhi.
Though the timing does indicate that Sagayam may take a plunge into politics, those close to him are not revealing their cards.