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23 Sep 2019, Edition - 1532, Monday

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Coimbatore

Bureaucrat’s drive gets HC backing

PB Jayasankar

Kottayam: Daring bureaucrat TN Seshan as the head of the Election Commission clash with the then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao on certain issues still remains vivid. Seshan showed the country how powerful a bureaucrat can become with determination, though one can interpret this Magsasay award winner’s move to turn popular by entering public life at the fag end of his career.

But here in the district of Idukki is a young doctor-turned-public servant Sriram Vekataraman, serving as the sub collector of the hill station Devikulam, giving sleepless nights to the politicians and other land grabbers in the global tourism destination of Munnar.

This reminds one of the days when Kerala’s erstwhile chief minister V S Achuthandan embarked on a mission to vacate all encroachers in Munnar and other parts of the state in 2007. He had entrusted the mission to a team of three daring public servants led by Special Officer Suresh Kumar, Idukki Collector Raju Narayanaswamy and IG Rishiraj Singh who successfully freed 12,000 acres from encroachers. The team went berserk raging to the ground tall concrete buildings constructed on encroached land.

This left the CPM and the CPI demanding a halt on the mission as some of the encroachers allegedly belonged to these parties. Achuthandan was isolated and cornered by his government and party and the mission was abandoned midway. By the time much of the encroachment was cleared not only in Munnar, but also across the state, including the major citities of Thiruvananthpuram, Kochi and Kozhikode.

But the octogenarian Achuthandan was the chief minister and a politician belonging to CPM. But, this is probably the first time that a cub bureaucrat has embarked on a one-man mission to crush encroachment in Munnar inviting the ire of the politicians, evangelists, and tourism lobby.

Ironically, Venkitaraman has opened the pandoras box as this exercise has once again created fissure among the LDF constituents with CPM leaders like S Rajendran, MLA, and Power Minister M M Mani flaying the official and the CPI
strongly which has its representation in the Cabinet through the Revenue Minister.

The eviction got murkier when he ordered uprooting of a 30-foot tall cross erected by an Evangelist group head Tom Zachariah of Spirit in Jesus on encroached land at Pappathichola. As part of appeasing the minorities, the Chief Minister had reprimanded the Collector and the Sub-Collector for not taking permission from government before removing cross. On the other had the Syro Malabar Church had backed the move to evict the encroachers.

But the Congress-led United Democratic Front which was neck deep in corruption during its previous rule, challenged the government to flush out power Minister M M Mani’s brother Lambodaran from his alleged encroached land. It has also asked to evict Joice George, MP, from the controversial land occupied in reserved forest area. Joice won the Parliament election supported by the LDF in 2014.

Meanwhile, Sriram is on top of the world with the Kerala High Court upholding his decision to evict an encroacher from Love Dale resort set up on 22 cents in the heart of Munnar. The court order has also emboldened revenue minister E Chandrashekharan who has reiterated that the government will go ahead with its eviction drive without any let up.

The court ruling has boosted his morale at a time when the all-party meeting called by the chief minister on his eviction drive was critical of the move against small encroachers.

S Rajendran had said at the meeting that he was scared at the appearance of Sriram. CPI who had publicly supported the eviction drive had skipped the meeting. The minister Chandrashekharan was conspicuous by his absence as he was against holding the meeting.

Armed with a post-graduate degree from the Government Medical College in Thiruvanthapuram, Sriram cracked UPSC Civil Services in 2013 coming second and was posted in Devikulam taluk as Sub Collector. The beardy Sriram, who prefers to use a two-wheeler, has become the darling of the people as he has tremendous support from the social media.

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