The young IAS officer has been cornered for taking on encroachers in Munnar.


Have you ever heard of a minister saying a bureaucrat serving under his government should be sent to a mental hospital? A Kerala minister is of the opinion that the state’s most popular bureaucrat needs to be sent to Oolampara, a famous mental asylum in Kerala.

“Devikulam subcollector Sriram Venkitaraman should be sent to Oolampara,” Kerala electricity minister and CPI (M) leader MM Mani said on Saturday.

30-year-old Venkitraman has been in the headlines since he started an anti-encroachment drive in Munnar, taking on the land mafia as they bulldozed through the forests to build illegal resorts and commercial establishments in one of India’s most ecologically-fragile areas.

Unfazed by opposition from the local cadres and leaders of the ruling party, the young bureaucrat cracked the whip on the encroachers. It was a mission to save Munnar, an ecologically-sensitive place known for its picturesque beauty, with the backing of Kerala’s revenue department, headed by E Chandrasekharan, a minister from the CPI.

MM Mani lashed out at the subcollector by calling him a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) agent, and the social media trolled him for this “revelation”, posting that even Che Guevara would be branded as RSS leader in the existing socio-political ecosystem of Kerala.

demolition_042317052845.jpegThe subcollector gained popularity for implementing the law of the land without succumbing to political pressure from any party. Photo: Deccan Chronicle

Sriram’s anti-encroachment drive reached a crossroads when his team demolished a crucifix at Pappathichola in Munnar, which the revenue department officials claimed was erected illegally.

As the subcollector gained popularity for implementing the law of the land without succumbing to political pressure from any party, the Kerala society saw the demolition of the cross as a legitimate move. But the CPI (M) leaders were not impressed with the man behind it.

The party rules the state under the leadership of strongman Pinarayi Vijayan, and the bureaucratic machinery is working under their direction. But leaders like MM Mani think that the officers are acting in line with the RSS agenda.

Minister Mani has gone to the extent of saying the cross was demolished just like the Babri Masjid was attacked in Ayodhya.

These remarks have put the LDF government on a defensive plank, at the same time demotivating the young IAS officers to carry on with such popular initiatives.

It’s a fact that inaction from government machineries has amplified the courage of encroachers in Munnar, resulting in ruining a large extent of forest area.

Sriram, a doctor-turned IAS officer, has put a halt on the free run of encroachers. This has caused irritation among the land mafia and local political leaders who have vested interests in the hilly destination.

Munnar, one of the top hill stations in the country, is situated at around 1,600 metres above the sea level in the Western Ghats.

An ecologically-fragile land with two wildlife sanctuaries and four national parks, Munnar has some exceptional natural attractions like Neelakurinji, a flowering plant that blooms once in 12 years, and the endangered Nilgiri tahr, along with more than 3,000 species of flowers, endangered birds, insects, and mammals.

The encroachers have put this rich biological diversity at risk. Sriram has given notices to more than 100 unauthorised constructions, spurring hope among the environmentalists. After visiting Munnar recently, Union minister CR Choudhary, has presented an inspection report to the Centre stating that place is in an extremely dangerous position.

But, the problem is that our “isms” don’t bother about the ecology, and the political parties are trained at grabbing power and retaining it at any cost.

The immature, yet powerful politicians have put the delicate ecosystem of Munnar at stake.

That’s the reason why this young bureaucrat makes great sense. To him, ecology matters.

Sriram Venkitaraman has been cornered now for taking on the politically-backed land mafia, and branded an RSS man.

And the grand slogan stands modified: it’s not ‘Long live revolution, down with imperialism’, but ‘Long live land mafia, down with law of the land’.