Survival by blackmail or art of governance
by P M Ravindran on 24 Feb 2018 5 Comments

A benign king decided to teach his subjects the value of cooperation. He invited them all for a lunch and had them seated in two rows facing each other. He did one more thing before serving the food, he tied stilts to their arms so that they could not bend them. And when the food was served the people obviously could not eat what was served. It was then that the king came and asked them why they were not eating. On getting no response he said: it is true that none of you can eat yourself, but why don’t you try feeding the person in front of you? And the story ended happily.


And when people started cooperating like this, but in negative ways, somebody coined the phrase ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’. But in Kalyug, even this phrase doesn’t adequately express the extent to which criminals cooperate. Hence the new expression: survival by blackmail. And if you look at how public servants get away with their acts of omission and commission one may not be wrong in asking if it is also the art of governance.


Jacob Thomas, IPS, was handpicked by the Pinarayi-led government in Kerala to head the Vigilance Department with the ostensible aim of cleansing the administration of corruption. Now, there had been two allegations that had come out in public domain against Jacob Thomas himself. One, while working with the Department of Ports at Kochi he had caused a loss of Rs 15 crores to the exchequer by buying equipments without following the prescribed procedure. Two, after taking leave he had worked for a college and got additional remuneration. When the latter was detected and objected to, he repaid the amount so received and all seemed well after that.


Meanwhile, an MLA had sought information under the RTI Act and failed to get any though cases of corruption are not exempted from disclosure. Though the dates of the application, first appeal and second appeal are not known, it is learnt (Mathrubhumi, 10 Feb 2018) that the Chief Information Commissioner, Kerala State Information Commission, ordered hearing on the appeal on 12 Feb 2018. (About how this is irrelevant and how Information Commissioners have murdered the RTI Act is a matter of independent study, or more precisely, a case study to expose how public servants can be the biggest traitors in this country).


Once at the top of the Vigilance Department, Jacob Thomas went about his job like no other Vigilance Director before him. Unfortunately for him, he literally opened a Pandora’s box by investigating allegations of corruption and disproportionate assets cases some senior members of the IAS. And this most powerful lobby in the state retaliated by planning a mass leave as a mark of protest.


The Chief Minister stood his ground and listed the instances when he had supported the secretaries against whom vigilance had recommended prosecution. As per a report in Mathrubhumi (10 Jan 2017), Pinarayi Vijayan had named K.M. Abraham, Tom Jose and hinted at Paul Antony (without actually naming him; all were additional chief secretaries then with Paul Antony being Chief Secretary now), and how he had not proceeded with the action recommended by the Vigilance Department against any of them.


In fact, while examining a petition alleging that then Chief Secretary S.M. Vijayanand had put in cold storage a vigilance report against Tom Jose, the High Court had reportedly (Mathrubhumi, 28 Jan 2017) asked if Tom Jose should be allowed to continue in the civil service itself. The same newspaper had two other serious reports. One was about the Special Vigilance Court directing that once prima facie charge has been established through a quick enquiry there was no need for waiting for clearance from the court to register an FIR and proceed with further investigations. The other was about how a petitioner alleged that the Additional Chief Secretary, Home, Ms Nalini Netto, had ‘created’ a false file to successfully remove the then DGP (Law and Order) Senkumar from his post.


But the IAS lobby proved its stranglehold on government when Jacob Thomas was relieved from the high profile job of Vigilance Director.  One of the arm twisting tactics adopted was not to honour personal recommendations of the ministers for making appointments to various posts, including those where political nominations were in vogue (Mathrubhumi, 15 Jan 2017).


Cut to end of 2017. There had been a hue and cry in the aftermath of typhoon Ockhi which ravaged the coastal areas of Kerala. In one instance, the victims did not even allow the Chief Minister to get into his car after visiting them. And while being the Director of the Institute of Management in Government, Jacob Thomas invited suspension by echoing, during a public function, popular sentiments about the failure of the government in warning the coastal folks and the lackadaisical rescue and rehabilitation efforts. And now, hardening their stand against him, the Chief Secretary, Paul Antony, has issued him a show cause notice for his prosecution. The lobby has also alleged that his writing a book while in service and without taking permission amounted to gross illegality!


It is believed that when misfortune strikes, it does not come singly. Now the High Court of Kerala, while quashing an FIR registered by the Vigilance Department, in what is popularly known as the Patoor land scam, has criticized Jacob Thomas and even remarked that he needs to be disciplined. The case, in a nutshell is:


A private party had wanted the Kerala Water Authority to remove a pipeline passing through a piece of land, allegedly encroached by the party. The Authority refused claiming it was their land. The matter was taken up with then Chief Secretary who recommended the removal of the pipes and it was accepted by then Chief Minister, Oommen Chandy. Typical of Kerala, allegations of corruption surfaced and Jacob Thomas, as Additional Vigilance Director, conducted an inquiry and submitted a report to the Lokayukta who was hearing a complaint on the issue.


The then Opposition Leader V.S. Achuthanandan came down heavily on the Lokayukta, alleging that he had locked up the report and had also directed Jacob Thomas not to give any copies of the report to anybody else (Malayala Manorama, 11 Feb 2016). Interestingly, another report in Malayala Manorama (1 April 2016) gives the following details, quoting the Lokayukta: the land belonged to the private party who had not given any permission for laying the sewage pipes through its property. It applied for removal of the pipes on 3 July 2008 and deposited Rs 14,80,000/- on 25 Aug 2008 towards the cost. There was nothing wrong in giving permission to the private party to shift the pipes at their cost.


However, the investigations also revealed that the private party had encroached on 12.279 cents of land and the District Collector had been directed to take possession of it immediately. Also revealed were the manipulations at the revenue offices and the City Corporation office, including pages torn off the relevant registers!


Some questions beg answers. One, could the Water Authority have laid a pipe line through a private property without even the owner’s permission? Two, how long back was the pipeline laid? Three, if the pipeline had been laid by the Water Authority without the owner’s permission and the owner now wanted it to be removed, should the owner have approached a court of law? Four, for what purpose, on what basis of calculation and on whose instruction was Rs 14,80,000/- deposited on 25 Aug 2008?


Five, when was the permission granted for shifting and when was the shifting completed? Six, what actions were taken by the owner/public servants between 25 Aug 2008 and the date of grant of permission? (In 2008, V.S. Achuthanandan was Chief Minister and the permission was given after Oommen Chandy, one of the accused, became Chief Minister in 2011).


While all reports indicate that none of the public servants have been convicted for their alleged crimes, the fact also remains that in most cases there have been no honourable acquittals either. Jacob Thomas, a DGP under suspension, has reportedly approached the Central Government for a posting, preferably somewhere outside the country, expressing fear for his life. That is how democracy is working in India’s first fully literate state which is also acclaimed as God’s own country. 

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