On February 20, a railway guard at a station in Tirunelveli, a town in southern Tamil Nadu, saw a middle-aged man stop his conversation and fling his cellphone before leaping to death in front of a train.
The suicide of Muthukumaraswamy, an assistant executive engineer in the agriculture department in Tirunelveli, had snowballed into a major controversy in the state leading to the resignation of agriculture minister S S Krishnamurthy on March 7. The district collector of Tirunelveli town has now confirmed to The Indian Express that Muthukumaraswamy had approached him to complain about the alleged pressure on him from the minister’s secretaries to pay a bribe of Rs 14 lakh.
AIADMK had dropped Krishnamurthy from the state Cabinet and party posts after Congress leader EVKS Elangovan brandished Muthukumaraswamy’s call records to allege that he was under pressure from the minister’s office.
While AIADMK leaders refused to say anything on record, they admitted that the party took action against the minister based on prima facie evidence. Police officials probing the case said all calls to Muthukumaraswamy came from the minister’s office and it would be difficult to trace it to the minister.
It appears that there were only two people with whom Muthukumaraswamy shared his troubles before his death. One was his close friend, a former colleague who lives in Chennai; and the other, M Karunagaran, the district collector.
Sources said on February 14, almost a week before his suicide, Muthukumaraswamy met his friend at Chennai Egmore railway station. The two met around 7.20 pm and spoke until around 8 pm when he boarded the Nellai Express.
The friend says Muthukumaraswamy was almost in tears when he told him of the “trap” he was in. “He said he was in trouble after he had appointed seven drivers to the department. After the collector approved the final list, the minister’s office started calling him, demanding Rs 2 lakh from each candidate, failing which, they said, they would make alterations to the list to add their candidates,” he says. The minister’s office allegedly demanded Rs 14 lakh from Muthukumaraswamy for the temporary contract posts, which pays a salary of Rs 9,000 a month.
The friend says Muthukumaraswamy alleged that the minister’s secretaries threatened him that he wouldn’t be allowed to retire if he didn’t pay. The friend said Muthukumaraswamy told him that one of the minister’s secretaries had forcibly taken away the appointment orders on the condition that it would be returned to him only if he paid the bribe.
“He was distraught. He said he would withdraw Rs 6 lakh from his PF but the minister’s office said they would not accept less than Rs 14 lakh (Rs 2 lakh each for seven candidates),” the friend said.
As the threats kept mounting after the selection process was completed in December 2014, Muthukumaraswamy had gone to the district collector — twice — to seek his help. “A few days after we finalised the list, he rushed into my office, asking if it was possible to alter the list and saying he was under pressure from the minister’s office. I told him it was impossible,” says Karunagaran. Three to four days before his suicide, Muthukumaraswamy again visited his office. “This time, I told him to tell those people to call me since I was the collector and I was the one who had signed on the final list,” he says, adding that the next time he heard of him was on February 20, when he killed himself.
Two days after his death, his younger son, a software engineer, said, “I do not even know if I should fight for justice. The only thing I can tell you is that my father had no problems at home,” says Sethuram, 23, reacting to a statement from the minister that the engineer committed suicide due to personal problems.