Munnar is now caught in the vortex of a raging controversy. While the top bureaucracy remains reluctant to handle the land encroachment-related issues, a subcollector has raised the cudgels of law against the land mafia and its encroachments in Munnar. Devikulam subcollector V. Sriram refuses to be cowed down by the threats of a minister, an MLA and the local CPM leadership.
Sriram, who is an MBBS doctor, won the second rank in the 2013 civil service exams. He was then posted as assistant collector in Pathanamthitta. He took over as Devikulam subcollector in July, 2016.
Excerpts from an interview:
What triggered the present stand-off in Munnar?
The first agitation broke out over the restrictions and ban imposed on construction in five villages in Devikulam taluk. The government directed issuing certificates after verifying the tandaper register as per an order issued in 2015. Certain people's refusal to submit documents for scrutiny gave way to misconceptions. Even after repealing the curbs and regulations, the agitations continued.
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The order mandating a no-objection certificate for constructions in eight villages in Munnar was implemented as per a High Court order issued in 2010. On finding that the order was causing inconvenience to the people, the revenue department issued NOC for constructing houses. Still, the agitations continued. Notices were served on 100-odd resorts for unauthorized construction. Encroachments were evicted and 45 vehicles seized. These actions did not augur well with some people.
Initially it was S.Rajendran, MLA, and now it is power minister M.M.Mani. How do you manage such opposition?
As a government official, there are restrictions in revealing certain things. I am enforcing the law and that is the duty of any government official. I need not be afraid of enforcing the law. Certain officials have a feeling that they would get their salary whether they work or not. This attitude should go. Each official should try to improve his performance.
Do you have any animosity with S. Rajendran, MLA?
Nothing. We are good friends. We had shared the dais at a function in Adimali last week. My reaction to his observations is "no comments".
What is your reaction to threats and political pressure?
Enforcement of law may invite resistance. I have not even got one call in a threatening tone. I am banking on the support of the revenue minister and higher officials.
How do you face controversies?
I face controversies with temerity. Do not retract from such steps. On attempting to evict encroachments at Devikulam with the additional tehsildars, some people opposed it and members of the Land Protection Core were manhandled. I cannot remain a mute spectator to attacks on my colleagues and that prompted me to react. The police refusal to arrest those unleashed violence amounts to serious dereliction of duty.
What should the government do?
The government should protect officials who are enforcing laws.
What are the follow-up actions in Munnar?
There is no question of going back on evicting encroachments. Revenue minister E. Chandrasekharan has offered complete support. Strong action would be taken against those blocking officials. The documents of those who appropriated land using fake title-deeds would be examined.
What is your take on former additional chief secretary Babu Paul’s comments that there was lack of caution on your part in the Devikulam incident?
What he said is partially true. Eviction is initiated by revenue officials. They do not need the support of the police. The additional tehsildar had informed me of the public resistance there. I had taken it up with the CI too. There were only four policemen and an SI on the spot.
Plans for Munnar?
I would discuss it with the Idukki collector soon. Encroachments are extensive. It’s extent is still not known.