Sriram Venkataraman is a young IAS officer who has burst into the news cycle with his courageous drive against illegal encroachers in the hill station of Munnar in Kerala. Venkataraman, who secured the second rank in the Civil Services Examination in 2013, is currently the sub-collector of Devikulam near Munnar in Idukki district of the state.
The preservation of Munnar, considered a highly fragile hill station, from the land mafia has been a simmering issue in Kerala from time to time. While many local politicians indirectly support businessmen who have razed land with impunity in order to build resorts and hotels, a section of environmentalists and activists have steadfastly stood against encroachment by the real estate mafia. It is in this context that Venkataraman’s efforts to evict resort owners who do not have proper land records have found favour among the activists and locals.
The latest controversy around the eviction drive stems from the pulling down of an iron cross that was erected on ‘encroached’ land in Pappathichola on April 17. The land was reportedly encroached by a Christian evangelical group. The razing of the cross by revenue department officials drew outrage from state power minister MM Mani, who is also an MLA from nearby Udumbanchola. Mani, who is known for making derogatory and outlandish comments at public forums, lashed out at Venkataraman accusing him of conspiring with the RSS in bringing down the cross. He also said the IAS officer must be banished to a mental asylum in Oolampara near the state capital. The CPM leader went on to compare the act to the Babri Masjid demolition of 1992.
Mani’s criticism of Venkataraman has not gone down well with leaders of the CPI, ally of the CPM, the Congress and the BJP who have demanded his immediate ouster from the cabinet. The IAS officer has also got the backing of CPM leader and former chief minister VS Achuthanandan, who had conducted his own campaign against illegal encroachment in Munnar in 2007. Achuthanandan, a fierce rival of chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, has time and again hit out at the state government over its failures. If Mani resigns, he would be the third minister to step down from the cabinet in less than a year.
Venkataraman, whose security has reportedly been beefed up owing to threats, however remained stern about the campaign. “I am not afraid of anyone. I am only implementing the law of the land,” he told the Hindustan Times.