TWO WEEKS ago, when he wanted to quit as director of Kerala’s Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau, Jacob Thomas said, “Every day there are new heavens and a new earth.” This came from an IPS officer for whom the highs and the lows have alternated over the course of a career that has seen him sidelined and threatened with disciplinary action during one regime, then elevated and given vocal support during the other.
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Over the years, the DGP-ranked, 1985-batch Kerala cadre officer has acquired an image of being a campaigner against corruption as well as a rebel cop. Made vigilance head shortly after the CPM-led LDF came to power, he cracked the whip on senior bureaucrats, including two additional chief secretaries. IAS officials complained he was implicating them in fabricated cases; he said he would spare no one in his fight against corruption.
Thomas’s offer to quit followed the emergence of financial irregularities at the Port directorate during his term as director there, which he took as a dent to his image. Then a petition came up in Kerala High Court last week, seeking a CBI probe against Thomas for alleged violation of service rules in 2009 when he had taken leave for three months to teach in a management institute.
When Thomas offered to quit, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan backed him as vigilance director. Following the high court petition, the government noted that the CBI has shown an “unusual interest” in the petition.
During the Congress-led regime, he had repeated showdowns with the government. He had been supervising the probe against K M Mani in the bar scandal when the UDF government shunted him out as additional director of VACB.
Along the way, he made controversial remarks, such as last year in public: “One should be facing at least three vigilance cases to become the chief secretary.” Then DGP T P Senkumar warned him he would face disciplinary action for talking to the media; Thomas was served showcause notices twice on that ground. Then CM Oommen Chandy said the government knew how to handle the officer; Thomas served the CM a legal notice.
After his removal as additional vigilance director, Thomas was made head of fire and rescue services. He courted controversy again, demanding builders follow national building code and fire safety norms. Under pressure from realtors, the government removed Thomas. He became managing director of Kerala Police Housing and Construction Corporation — a post normally held by an IG-level officer — until the new government asked him to head vigilance.
Born in an agricultural family in central Kerala, Thomas has a PhD in agronomy (he would later earn a management degree from IIM-A). He joined civil service at age 25. In 1987, he was appointed additional SP in Kasaragode. Removed while probing a murder involving the underworld, he served in low-profile police posts for some time. He was later made registrar of Kerala Agricultural University, but the appointment was cancelled when professors objected to working under their former student.
In 1997, he was appointed Kochi city police commissioner. He busted an illegal card game at a club and nabbed high-profile citizens, including police officers. During the same stint, however, Thomas refused to arrest People’s Democratic Party leader Abdul Nazar Madhani for want of evidence. An officer from outside Kochi, however, arrested Madhani and handed him over to Tamil Nadu police, who made him an accused in the Coimbatore serial blasts of 1998.
That year, Thomas was removed as Kochi police chief. It was the last posting that would require him to wear the police uniform.
He has been head of Kerala Civil Supplies Corporation and Supply Co. During the UDF regime of 2001-2006, Thomas cracked down on corruption in the corporation.
Thomas himself faced a vigilance probe on charges of accepting salary from a college where he taught for a while. Last year, then chief secretary Jiji Thompson recommended he be suspended or sacked. Thomas ended the controversy by returning the salary.