In Kerala, IPS officer Rishi Raj Singh has always carried an image larger than life. A no-nonsense policeman, IPS officer of the 1985 batch, he has a reputation for toughness, his targets ranging from IPS batchmates to junior cops, from wayward motorists to politicians and businessmen pilfering electricity.
Now his apparent reluctance to give a routine salute to the home minister has signalled a showdown with the political class. Several politicians had, in fact, been waiting to rein in the khaki “hero”, though he also has a prominent supporter in the opposition.
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In the last 10 months, Singh has upset several powerful businessmen and politicians with surprise raids against power theft. Kerala State Electricity Board vigilance squads have imposed fines of Rs 35 crore on business houses, politicians and others.
Last week, Singh, an officer of the rank of additional director-general of police, was transferred out of the post of chief vigilance officer with KSEB. On Saturday, leader of the opposition V S Achuthanandan said Singh was shunted out after he had exposed power theft at a financial institution close to CM Oommen Chandy. VS said his transfer was against public interest and should be revoked.
The controversy over not saluting Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala broke the very day after Achuthanandan raised the storm over Singh’s transfer. The absence of a salute was widely seen as a mark of protest against the transfer, though both the officer and the minister have denied it.
Singh’s bold actions have frequently endeared him to the public. As transport commissioner until a year ago, he had put road safety on top on the agenda, given Kerala’s high accident rate. Although speed control devices have been mandatory for all heavy vehicles registered in Kerala for a decade, it was Singh who got his department to ensure that all passenger buses, known as killers, installed those devices. He ignored protests from political leaders, some of whom have links with transport operators.
Singh stressed compulsory helmets for two-wheeler riders and seat belts for front seat occupants in cars. This led to actor Mohanlal lauding him as a hero. “Rishi Raj Singh shines as the real star and I expect this to be an inspiration for many others.’’
The “star” did not stay long with the transport department. He had wanted to make seat belts mandatory after Union minister Gopinath Munde died in a car accident while sitting in the rear without a belt. Singh’s idea is said to have upset Transport Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishan.
Removed as transport commissioner, Singh became KSEB chief vigilance officer, a post he had held a decade earlier, then in the rank of an IG. In 2004, too, Singh had led squads to business units and the homes of influential persons to detect power theft.
In 2007, when the CPM-led government was in power, Singh, as head of the anti-piracy cell, had raided a studio owned by fellow IPS officer Tomin J Thachankery, known to be close to the CPM leadership. Singh was removed but then CM Achuthanandan ordered the DGP to reinstate him. During the LDF regime, Singh was one of three officers handpicked by VS to lead a demolition drive against encroachment in Munnar Hills. While bulldozers razed illegal buildings, the mustachioed IPS officer stood guard.
The officer, who hails from Bikaner, also has a history of going out of his way while taking on corruption. In 2004, as IG in charge of traffic, he launched a sting operation on highway police, then notorious for taking bribes from motorists. Wearing a lungi, he would travel in a truck as a crew member. Policemen who could not recognise him and took a bribe would be caught red-handed.
Singh had an eventful deputation in the CBI’s western range in Mumbai before returning to Kerala in 2013. In the CBI, he supervised the probe into the Adarsh housing scam and unearthed a recruitment racket in National Defence Academy and graft in Canteen Store Department in Mumbai. In the past too, his transfers had raised eyebrows.
In 2012, after the CBI submitted a chargesheet in the Adarsh scam, Singh, then joint director in Mumbai, was shifted to the economic offences wing. He worked briefly in the anti-corruption unit in Bhopal before returning to Kerala in 2013. As DIG, he had also served in the SPG for five years.
Although Singh is known as a disciplinarian, he had faced flak from the State Police Complaints Authority for his failure to give an explanation in connection with a complaint against him. Welgates Videos had complained against Singh following a raid at its library during the drive against piracy. Despite several reminders, Singh did not turn up at the authority to give an explanation.