With the rebuffed officers rejoining duty, the potential government-administration clash ended quietly.

Kerala IAS officers mass protest fizzles out as CM Pinarayi refuses to intervene in Vigilance matters
news Protest Monday, January 09, 2017 - 19:18

On Sunday, when the media announced an unprecedented mass request for half-day leave on Monday by Kerala IAS-cadre officers, the stage looked set for a formidable clash between the LDF government and the state bureaucracy.

The situation soon reached an anti-climactic end, however, after Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, made it clear that he was unimpressed by the move. Pinarayi chose not to mince words when he told the bureaucrat’s that their action was an unjustified reaction to their deadlock with bête-noir Dr Jacob Thomas IPS, the present state Vigilance Director.

For the aggrieved IAS officers, who called upon the CM on Monday morning to seek redress, the targeting of bureaucrats by the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) has been a sore point for some months now. In their eyes, the situation is an undercutting of the IAS cadre in the state by an IPS officer.

The simmering resentment reached an up-swell, leading to protest in the form of mass casual leave, after the VACB named Paul Antony, Additional Industries Chief Secretary, as the third accused in its FIR filed in the EP Jayarajan nepotism row.

The ‘unofficial’ rumour that other senior IAS officers including state Chief Secretary SM Vijayanand, state Revenue Secretary PH Kurien and state Health Secretary Rajeev Sadanandan would meet a similar fate did not help matters either.

According to journalists tracking the standoff, there are hints that VACB director Thomas has received full backing Home Secretary Nalini Netto – a Pinarayi favourite – with an eye on the post of state Chief Secretary that will soon fall vacant (as the present incumbent retires in a couple of months).

With one of their own backing the other side, these commentators say, the aggrieved IAS officers never really had things stacked in their favour from the start. Netto was unavailable to comment on this claim, despite repeated attempts by The News Minute to contact her.

That apart, right from the time the Left government came into power last May, Thomas seems to have had the unstinted support of the Chief Minister. The aggrieved IAS lobby alleges that Thomas appears to have gone scot-free even though he had caused a reported loss of Rs 30-35 crore to the state exchequer when handling the Director of Ports portfolio.

However, this accusation is not gaining any traction with anyone in the government at the moment.

The bureaucrats have also alleged that Thomas is following a ‘tit-for-tat’ approach in directing the VACB investigations, particularly in Antony’s case. His targeting, many aver, came about because of his opposition to the arrest of K Padmakumar, former Managing Director of Malabar Cements Limited, which Antony believed grossly violated legal norms.

Allegations of procedural violation have also been made in case of the Vigilance raids on Additional Chief Secretaries Tom Jose and KM Abraham.

However, on Monday morning, Pinarayi unambiguously declared that all ongoing VACB probes against allegedly tainted officials are routine official matters that would take their own course, and denied any grounds to intervene in them. And so, the bureaucratic pressure tactic fizzled out, leaving the rebuffed officials with no choice but to rejoin duty.

This rapid U-turn of the protesting bureaucrats has also cut the ground out from under the state Leader of the Opposition, Ramesh Chennithala, and the BJP, who had earlier hit out at the Pinarayi government over the issue. 

While Chennithala had warned that the Pinarayi government was leading the state towards a governance paralysis, the BJP had blamed the quarrel between the warring bureaucrats on the government’s lack of will.