Sep.27,2007 - Raju Narayanaswamy's predicaments

BJP hartal in Idukki district today
KOTTAYAM: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has called for a dawn-to-dusk hartal in Idukki district on Thursday in protest against the transfer of District Collector Raju Narayanaswamy. The decision to transfer an officer who was specially deputed to take on the encroachers clearly shows that the Chief Minister and the Left Democratic Front government have succumbed to pressures from the land mafia, alleged party’s Idukki district president Sreenagari Rajan and the State committee member J. Jayakumar.

Raju Narayanswamy has a rare distinction. He may be the only IAS officer in the country who invited a divorce notice from his wife for invoking the CRPC against his contractor father-in-law for blocking a public road. Narayanaswamy is in the news, though, for another kind of notice he’s attracted. As district collector of Idukki, he ran into confrontation with the powerful land mafia while leading a state-wide anti-encroachment drive in his district. He has now been transferred to neighbouring Pathanamthitta district.

The transfer has evoked widespread condemnation across Kerala and particularly in Idukki. For the first time, a district observed a dawn to dusk hartal in protest against the transfer of a collector.

Though the BJP extended support to the agitation, the major political parties kept away. But the strike turned unique when almost all Dalit and tribal organisations joined in to support the upper-caste collector. According to the protestors, Narayanaswamy was booted out at the behest of Kerala Congress leader PJ Joseph, who had usurped large tracts of tribal and forest land to build holiday resorts in the area.

Joseph is seen as a custodian of Christian votes, and he managed to get the backing of various sections in both the ruling LDF and the Opposition UDF. Joseph and his clique have been annoyed with Narayanaswamy for quite a while now. In the previous EK Nayanar government, Joseph was Minister for Education and Public Works, and Narayanaswamy was a secretary under him. “There was a lot of corruption in the sanctioning of secondary schools. The public will come to know the truth soon,’’ Narayanaswamy told TEHELKA.

Joseph’s close aide and successor as PWD Minister, TU Kuruvila, was forced to resign on the basis of a report the upright secretary prepared on his involvement in an illegal land deal. After the minister’s exit, Narayanaswamy initiated steps to take back illegal land Joseph owned in Purapuzha village. He also found that Joseph had occupied tribal land in Arakkulam village. Further, an inquiry into the Greenberg Tourist Resort — 75 acres of land owned by Joseph’s brother-in-law — found that it was eligible for only 15 acres. Joseph had constructed a road to this resort using the local area development fund belonging to his party’s then Rajya Sabha member Vakkachan Mattathil.

Narayanaswamy says his run-ins with those in power happen only because he can’t help being “stubborn” when things turn “unjustifiable.” Like when he refused permission to a real-estate businessman to fill up a large paddy farm — it would have deluged some 50 village homes with waste from the adjacent government hospital. Or when he refused to sanction payment for a badly-built earthen bund costing several crores — he was proved right when the bund dissolved and vanished in the rains.

Controversies, and trouble, have always followed Narayanaswamy, the topper of the 1991 IAS batch. After finishing first in the computer science class of IIT Chennai, he turned down an MIT scholarship to enter the civil services. Nine years ago, he bulldozed encroachments in Thrissur, earning the ire of powerful local businessmen. Five years ago, he went head to head with Cherkulam Abdulla, the UDF’s local administration minister. Narayanaswamy refused to sanction the registering of a hospital the minister owned as a private medical college, because it did not have the prescribed infrastructure. He also famously raided the house of an influential liquor baron who wouldn’t pay up Rs 11 crore of taxes, and seized his belongings.