In Munnar, the time that bureaucrats spend in their posting is always limited – especially if they’re the kind who are upright and want to uphold the law. Every time an IAS officer has wanted to take strict action against illegal construction and land encroachment in the district, they’ve been shunted out – by a system that’s believed to be backed by the land mafia. And between an officer taking office and them being shifted out is the time when politicians decide to dole out insults, with no respect for either the officers in charge, or the people who voted them to power.
The most recent instance of course is that of Devikulam MLA S Rajendran launching a tirade against sub-collector Renu Raj, because she dared to oppose an illegal construction. “She doesn’t have brains. Just because she is an IAS, she is trying to act smart. People who study only to become a collector will only have so much brains,” Rajendran said in public.
But Renu Raj is nowhere near the first bureaucrat in Devikulam to lock horns with a politician – or indeed, with Rajendran himself. In 2017, the then-sub-collector Sriram Venkitaraman was threatened that he would be “amputated” and would have to crawl all the way from Munnar for taking action against land encroachment. The verbal abuse was taken a step further against Sriram’s successor, VR Premkumar. Rajendran alleged that Premkumar had passed the Civil Services exam by cheating. Electricity minister MM Mani meanwhile claimed that the IAS officer was “mentally challenged” and under the control of someone else. “We will not approve the actions taken by a lunatic who came from somewhere. The sub-collector has committed something unbecoming of his position,” Mani had said.
It’s not just verbal abuse though. In just the last eight years, 14 sub-collectors have been moved out of Devikular, namely, A Shibu, MG Rajamanickam, Kochurani Xavier, S Venkideshapathi, KN Raveendaran, Madhu Gangadar, ET Scaria, D Rajan Sahai, GR Gokul, R Rajeev, Sabin Sameed, NTL Reddy, Sriram Venkitaraman, and VR Premkumar.
Of the 14, at least three – MG Rajamanickam, Sriram Venkitaraman, and VR Premkumar – had taken severe action against illegal constructions and land encroachments in Munnar; sources in the revenue department tell TNM that when they began taking action, the land mafia put pressure on local politicians to get them shunted out.
“Rajamanickam assumed charge of the Devikulam RDO office in October 2010, and continued till April 25, 2012. In this period, he conducted a thorough study of the land issues in Munnar and Anchunad village areas, and submitted a detailed report to the government pointing out the malpractices going on,” said a revenue department official.
In 2017, the then Devikulam sub-collector Sriram Venkitaraman ordered verification of the land records in Anchunad. CPI (M) feeder organisations – Kerala Karshaka Sangam, Karshaka Thozhilali Union, Nirmana Thozhilali Union – conducted protests for 20 days in front of the Devikulam RDO office, demanding that the government withdraw the sub-collector from Devikulam. Finally, the sub-collector himself cancelled the decision to verify the land records.
Various enquiry commissions appointed by the state government have pointed out that organised protests have badly affected the land record verification process in Anchunad village.
Sriram had also started taking action against the illegal constructions and land encroachments in and around Munnar. “When he began evictions, CPI (M) leaders led by Devikulam MLA S Rajendran openly opposed it, alleging that the interventions by the sub-collector were affecting the tourism sector in Munnar,” said the revenue department official.
After Sriram was moved out, VR Premkumar assumed the post. Premkumar continued taking action against illegal constructions and land encroachments. In November 2017, Premkumar cancelled the title deed of Idukki MP Joyce George, whose family owned over 28 acres of land in the proposed Neelakurinji Sanctuary area at Kottakamboor. Joyce filed an appeal against the order and the process is still ongoing.
To silence the young officials, MLA Rajendran and the team of leaders led by him seem to resort to verbal attacks to block them from doing their duty.
And one of the most ironic things about these developments is that sworn rivals in Kerala, Congress and CPI (M), allegedly are in cahoots when it comes to opposing bureaucrats in the region. “In Munnar, the CPI (M) and Congress are hand-in-glove. In the present case, Congress leader and Munnar panchayath president R Kuppuswami expressed his open support to Rajendran. If a sub-collector or any revenue official takes strict action against the land mafia, they will get him expelled from his post soon,” a revenue department official said.