‘We pledged to be vigilant’

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Case Study 3

MN Vijayakumar, Bengaluru

FORTY DEATH threats. Three attempts on his life. Seven transfers in the span of 10 months. 300 crore rupees passed off to the rich, in the name of the poor. Yet the story of MN Vijayakumar, son of a Central Food Technology Research Institute accountant and an IAS officer serving in Karnataka since 1985, is not in the numbers, but rather in a rare commitment to the spirit of service.

It was 2006. Vijayakumar was then the Secretary of the Department of Public Enterprises. The doorbell rang around midnight. The men at the door said his elder son, a college student, had met with a serious accident. “Come with us,” they exhorted. But Vijayakumar knew his son was asleep, not far from where he stood. This was just another attempt to silence him. After spending 14 years in that house with his extended family, Kumar and his wife Jayashree moved out in fear.

Almost a year later, in December 2007, when Vijayakumar was posted in the small town of Belgaum, an unruly man walked into his office. “I have murdered two people in broad daylight and just come out of jail. I wanted to have a look at you,” the man told him. This veiled death threat came while Vijayakumar was officially under police protection.

In his 26-year career as an IAS officer of the Karnataka cadre, Vijayakumar has always tried to expose corruption. “If you see things against public interest and are the only person who can point to them, you have to speak up,” he says. “As public servants, we pledge to be vigilant.”

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FACT FILE

 Vijayakumar has had 40 death threats and seven transfers

 He exposed a Rs 344 crore scam. Subsidies meant for electricity to the poor were being used by the rich

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Vijayakumar has written to both the Central Vigilance Commission and the Karnataka Human Rights Commission about the threat to his life, but to no avail. When his wife Jayashree realised that nobody in the system was there to protect her husband, she went to the public. “I started a website and began documenting everything,” she says. “I didn’t want to fight for justice after losing him.” Soon after the website began in 2007, Vijayakumar received a letter from then Chief Secretary PB Mahishi saying that the wife of a government servant cannot have such a website, since both husband and wife “are one legal unit.” To continue, she must “disassociate” from him.

Trouble for the couple began, when, as Special Secretary in the Energy Reforms Department, Vijayakumar raised an alarm about the misuse of Rs 344 crore. In 2005, he submitted a 30-page report to the Karnataka Chief Secretary. “The worst thing I noticed was claims about crores spent on services to the poor, when data clearly showed otherwise,” says he. Huge subsidies were officially being given to provide electricity to the poor. But after studying tariffs and meter readings of 800 villages, Vijayakumar found it was actually the poor subsidising the rich.

The then Chief Secretary KK Mishra had warned Vijayakumar not to proceed against the officers concerned. “They will decimate you. Don’t do it,” Vijayakumar says Mishra had told him. “They will go to any extent to destroy you.” But the IAS officer would not be deterred. Mishra retired soon after, and following a few temporary changes in Chief Secretaries, PB Maishi took over in January 2007. Vijayakumar demanded action on his report or else he’d make it public. Apparently Maishi told Vijayakumar, “I’m aware of much larger scams, why are you making so much noise?” Vijayakumar’s wife Jayashree was also present during the meeting. “I shield the corrupt. Don’t investigate,” she remembers the Chief Secretary as saying. When contacted, Maishi admitted to TEHELKA that Vijayakumar did meet him. “He brought no report on which I could take action. So I told him to do his job and leave other agencies to check corruption. He is making false allegations and thinks I am plotting his murder. It looks like he is suffering from paranoia,” he says, adding that he recommended disciplinary action against him and forwarded Vijayakumar’s correspondence with him to the psychiatry ward.

And so, the hounding escalated. Vijayakumar says, “It seems the Chief Secretary gave my report to the very people I had complained against. Later RTI que ries showed my report was untraceable.”

 

Photo: Satish Badigar

From September 2006 to June 2007, Vijayakumar was transferred seven times, once to a lower post when actually he was due for promotion; once to a defunct entity where he wasn’t paid for four months and lived inside the office. Everywhere he went, he reported anomalies. Every time he raised the alarm, he was transferred.

Twenty days after his posting as Regional Commissioner, Bangalore, he introduced a program where the public could see RTI information files on the web without constraints of specific timings and days. Two days prior to the program launch, he was transferred out. Next he was sent to work as Managing Director in a defunct unit of Mysore Lamps. When he submitted a revival plan for Mysore lamps, he was transferred to a distant Belgaum town, and placed with the Command Area Development Authority, a post actually meant for engineers.

By then it was December 2007. Vijayakumar refused to go to Belgaum without police protection. It was given to him, on paper. “The officers filled their beat book without even a daily visit,” says Jayashree. There were two attempts on Vijayakumar’s life while he was under police protection. “The police said they can’t protect me and that I should ask for CBI protection,” recalls the IAS officer, now at the Principal Secretary level, and working in a decorative position as the Chairman of the Karnataka Silk Managing Board.

But Vijayakumar hasn’t faced harassment alone. Since 2006, his wife Jayashree has been incessantly filing RTI applications to support him. When her queries about the functioning of a mandatory high-level committee on corruption were unanswered, Jayashree approached the Karnataka Information Commission. She had just left the premises, when a man stopped her on the road. “Withdraw all your applications or face dire consequences,” he said. Another time, as she was on her way to a press conference to reveal information she had found against the Chief Secretary, a bus tried to ram into her car. “We survived because of the alert driver,” she says. “We have been lucky. Everytime someone has tried to harm us, there has been someone else to protect us. I don’t know how long that can last.”

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