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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Remembering activist Traffic Ramaswamy, who waged war against illegal posters and hoardings in Chennai

Ramaswamy was known across Tamil Nadu as a feisty anti-corruption activist who won't hesitate in approaching the court – or violating the law himself – for his cause. He wouldn't even let his progressing age come in his way.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai |
Updated: May 5, 2021 10:07:43 pm
ChennaiIn 2015, Ramaswamy was kept in police custody for four days for blocking traffic and allegedly threatening a businessman while removing yet another hoarding of AIADMK supremo late J Jayalalithaa. (Twitter/@Chinmayi)

KR Ramaswamy, better known as Traffic Ramaswamy, who took upon himself to clear Chennai of illegal posters and hoardings of the high and mighty, died at a city hospital Tuesday night, days after he suffered a massive cardiac arrest. He was 86.

He is survived by his wife and a daughter.

Ramaswamy was known across Tamil Nadu as a feisty anti-corruption activist who won’t hesitate in approaching the court – or violating the law himself – for his cause. He wouldn’t even let his progressing age come in his way.

In 2015, Ramaswamy was kept in police custody for four days for blocking traffic and allegedly threatening a businessman while removing yet another hoarding of AIADMK supremo late J Jayalalithaa.

Son of a Congress leader in the erstwhile Madras Presidency, Ramaswamy was a mill worker and considered late C Rajagopalachari, the former chief minister of the presidency, as his inspiration in the fight against corruption and violations. “I worked as a secretary to one of the ministers in his cabinet. Once he visited my home too as my father N K Rangaswamy was the district leader of Congress party,” he once recalled.

During a conversation with The Indian Express in 2015, Ramaswamy had narrated the strange ways he would win his battles. One such story was from February 2011.

A frail man, Ramaswamy, was busy pulling down posters and hoardings of the then chief minister M Karunanidhi in front of Anna Arivalayam, the DMK headquarters here, when the convoy of M K Stalin, the then deputy chief minister, which was entering the office premises, stopped right behind him. On spotting Stalin in the car, Ramaswamy vigorously started peeling off more posters that were illegally erected along the Mount Road.

Stalin waved at Ramaswamy and left. In a few hours, the state government issued an order to take action against illegal hoardings and digital banners put up in the city.

However, the outcome was different in 2015 when Jayalalithaa was the chief minister, he said.

As Ramaswamy was busy removing Jayalalithaa posters, a businessman got into an argument with him and even slapped him. The next day, a police team reached the lodge where he was staying at 4 am and whisked him away. “Instead of taking me to the police station, the vehicle roamed around the city till they produced me before the magistrate at 8 am. I came to know that the person who slapped me had filed a complaint that I had slapped him,” said Ramaswamy.

After police kept him in custody for four days, he said: “Not only Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi, I have torn posters of Vijayakanth, PMK’s S Ramadoss and many such.” He also made headlines when he removed a hoarding of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Trichy, which was erected by a local BJP leader.

Familiar to most judges in the Madras High Court, Ramaswamy filed not less than 600 PILs, mostly about violations, illegal hoardings and illegal structures in Chennai.

It was on his PIL that the court had set up the U Sagayam Committee to probe into the 2014 granite mining scam. He was also fined by the court a few times, including once for a petition he filed against the then chief minister O Panneerselvam for allegedly taking orders from Jayalalithaa, his party chief who was disqualified from the CM post following conviction in a disproportionate assets case.

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