The suspension of T O Sooraj , a secretary-level senior IAS officer, on charges of amassing wealth has brought an abrupt halt to his smooth sailing through various corruption charges in the past.
Last Saturday’s suspension of the Kerala Public Works secretary came after a case was registered against him for owning assets disproportionate to known sources of his income, and multiple raids by the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) to bring out the cached wealth.
Soon after the suspension, Sooraj virtually challenged the government threatening to make many exposes. “I have evidence against some persons who masquerade as gentlemen. If I am made a culprit, I would reveal everything at the right time. I have evidence to expose those claiming as gentlemen,” said Sooraj.
Vigilance sources said that Sooraj’s financial dealings since the last one decade would be under their scanner. “We have not valued his assets. However, a rough estimate shows that the officer had made a wealth of Rs 3 crore disproportionate to his income sources. He could not give a convincing explanation about the hard currency of Rs 23 lakh recovered from his house. Most of his financial dealings were in last two years,’’ sources said.
Vigilance had freezed Sooraj’s ten bank accounts and questioned him for several hours. His assets are in land and building. He has two warehouses and several real estate properties in many parts of Kerala.
Sooraj said he would legally fight the case. “I would prove my innocence in the court. Certain forces have been haunting me,” he said.
Last year, Sooraj had declared assets of Rs 8.45 crore. The Vigilance had registered the case in Special court in Thrissur alleging that prima facie had had amassed a wealth of Rs 1.83 crore disproportionate to his sources of income.
On several occasions, Sooraj had landed in controversies and corruption charges, but his career had never been eclipsed on account of them.
In the last one decade, he had faced three vigilance cases and a recommendation to suspend him from service. But Sooraj remained unfazed thanks to the support from Congress ally Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and a section of CPI (M) leaders from North Kerala.
Sooraj, now 56, had joined the government service as forest ranger, but directly got recruited to the revenue service as deputy collector. He was conferred IAS in 1994. Sooraj as a bureaucrat came to limelight in 2002 when he was made the district collector in Kozhikode by Congress government led by A K Antony.
The Hindu carnage of 2003 in Kozhikode put Sooraj in the dock for his inept handling. A judicial commission that probed the carnage had found that Sooraj was “responsible for the failure of the civil administration in taking timely, preventive and remedial action to prevent the massacre’’ that killed nine persons.
“The allegations of communalism raised against Sooraj cannot be ignored as baseless and is required to be inquired into by the government or other authority,” said the commission.
While the flames of carnage were yet to subside, Sooraj was embroiled in another controversy. He allowed Muslim League leader and then union minister E Ahammed to offer namaz at Marad Juma Masjid which was sealed by police after huge quantity of weapons were recovered from it.
During the judicial commission sitting, IPS officer Sanjiv Kumar Patjoshi, who was also blamed for inefficiency during his term as Kozhikode city commissioner, had quoted a state intelligence report that Sooraj was “corrupt and communal”.
When Sooraj blamed an intelligence officer for discrimination against Muslim officers and making adverse reports against them. the Judicial commission of Justice Joseph P Thomas, in his report, observed “that the allegation could be treated as the last straw in the hands of the district collector (Sooraj) in his attempt to escape from responsibility”.
The indictment of the judicial commission did not affect Sooraj’s career. The Congress-led United Democratic Front government did not take any step as per the commission recommendations. However, the previous LDF government filed a case before the vigilance tribunal in Kozhikode against Sooraj based on the recommendation of the commission.
But, the present UDF government had withdrawn the case in 2013 when the trial and examination of witnesses have been in the final stage. Sooraj had also obtained a stay from the Central Administrative Tribunal against the case in the vigilance court.
Sooraj’s term in Kozhikode as the district collector was also marked by corruption charges. Vigilance had registered three cases against him: One about collecting money from individuals for disaster management fund; second was about favouring illegal river sand mining groups; and third was about purchase of surgical instrument for a government hospital. Further action in these three cases were dropped by the Vigilance court as demanded by the previous government.
In 2008, the then Vigilance Director Siby Mathews had recommended that Sooraj be suspended from service. But, the political backing from a section of CPI (M) leaders helped Sooraj dodge the suspension.
During the previous UDF regime, Sooraj was made Industries Director when that department was handled by Indian Union Muslim League. In 2006 when the CPI (M)-led LDF came into power, Sooraj continued in the same post with CPI (M) leader Elamaram Kareem as the minister.
In 2011, when the Congress returned to power, Sooraj was still in the Industries Department, again handled by the IUML. In 2012, he was made public works secretary; again a department managed by the same IUML.
Sooraj had taken several controversial decisions as public works secretary. After the raids on Sooraj premises early last week, IUML leader and public works minister Ibrahim Kunju said he had nullified a deal Sooraj had inked with the Reliance for laying 4G cable along Kerala roads. The minister said the rate fixed for using the road network was much lower compared to other states.
As land revenue commissioner for a short period under the UDF government, Sooraj had allegedly abetted Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s security guard Salim Raj to grab a private land. The high court had severely criticized Sooraj in 2013, but the official remained unscathed in the government machinery.