“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,” declares Devikulam MLA S Rajendran, from the CPI (M). The target of his slander is Devikulam sub-collector Renu Raj, and her ‘crime’ was to stop the construction of a panchayat shopping complex that did not have the proper permissions.
In visuals that are being aired on Malayalam TV channels, the MLA can be seen addressing a group of people as he stands next to his car. The incident took place on Friday when a team of revenue officials came to prevent the construction of a shopping complex of the Munnar panchayat, after Renu Raj had earlier given a “stop memo” to the construction. According to reports, Renu Raj gave out the “stop memo” after it was found that the construction was happening without obtaining a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the district collector. However, MLA S Rajendran claimed that there is no need to get any permission from the revenue department to do construction on panchayat land.
The MLA and panchayat president blocked the revenue officials who came to prevent the construction – and that’s when Rajendran launched his tirade against the sub-collector. He insults the IAS officer repeatedly, as the people gathered around smile and nod.
Sub-collector Renu Raj is reported to have filed a complaint against the MLA to the revenue principal secretary and to the district collector. According to reports, the sub-collector has also confirmed that she will submit a report to the High Court against the Munnar panchayat secretary for going ahead with the construction despite being given a notice asking them to stop the construction.
Devikulam is infamous for politicians going after bureaucrats – and has been in the news for several tiffs in the last few years. In 2017, Devikulam and its then ‘sub-collector bro’ Sriram Venkitaraman were in the news for his anti-encroachment drive, which was staunchly opposed by politicians from CPI (M). The IAS officer, believed to have had the backing of the CPI, started an anti-encroachment drive in April 2017, and faced a host of roadblocks from politicians from the CPI (M). While the two Left parties are allies, part of the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), in Devikulam, the two parties have a history of opposing each other’s stands with regard to encroachment.
In fact, things came to a head when Sriram Venkitaraman ordered the razing down of a cross on encroached land. Even the state’s Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, slammed the IAS officer’s move. However, while politicians tried to make it communal, religious groups in the state did not oppose the bureaucrat.
Sriram Venkitaraman was eventually moved out of Devikulam, but all officers who have taken up the posts subsequently have faced similar roadblocks.
In November 2018, VR Premkumar was moved out as sub-collector and appointed as Assistant District Magistrate of Sabarimala. Opposition parties alleged that the transfer was due to pressure from district CPI (M) leaders who wanted Premkumar shunted out after he took stringent action against land encroachers in Munnar.
Premkumar’s actions against encroachment had invited the ire of various political groups and parties in Idukki. At one point, Electricity Minister MM Mani had called him a lunatic. MLA S Rajendran, too, had openly criticised the official on various occasions.