By Jeemon Jacob
A 1990 batch IAS officer, C Umashanker shot to fame during the AIADMK regime when he exposed a scam in the construction of sheds in a cremation ground under the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana when he was additional collector in Madurai. His brush with AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa’s partymen resulted in his transfer out of the district.
Later, when the DMK came to power, he was appointed managing director of the state-run Electronic Corporation of Tamil Nadu and put in charge of procuring colour television sets for free distribution to the poor in the state, in keeping with an election promise of the DMK. He was transferred with immediate effect after he exposed corporate fraud committed by the joint venture promoter ELNET Technologies Ltd.
Later, he was posted as managing director of the state-run Arasu Cable TV Corporation. In this capacity, he opposed the monopoly of Sumangali Corporation run by Kalanidhi Maran. He also took steps to nationalise Sumangali Cable Vision. By that time, Maran had a patch-up with the Karunanidhi family and Umashanker was transferred with immediate effect.
Later, the anti-corruption and vigilance department registered a case against him for disproportionate assets. The government suspended him for claiming fake caste certificate as a Dalit when he is a practising Christian.
He lodged a complaint with the National Backward Commission against his suspension and got a favourable order from the High Court. At present, he is managing director of Tamil Nadu Small Industries Corporation.
Umashanker was allotted a plot (under government order 2D 325) on 3 April 2008 at Thiruvanmiyur Extension when he was in charge of the free colour television for the poor programme. For this, he would have had to pay 55.12 lakh. He wrote to the chief minister that he could not afford to pay such a huge amount. Later, his allotment was cancelled without stating any reason.
Umashanker revealed he had an MIG flat in his name when the plot was allotted and he was not aware about the rule of Tamil Nadu Housing Board (TNHB) that he can’t claim a plot when he has another flat in his name.
Plots are allotted even without any formal applications. There is no transparency at all
It certainly seems commendable that Umashanker turned down a chance to own a plot in Thiruvanmiyur Extension, one of the poshest areas of the city. The plot is just 300 metres from the beach.
Though the entire colony has been parcelled out to those close to the ruling establishment, it is the nouveau riche and the industrialists who dream of owning a house in Thiruvanmiyur, where they can rub shoulders with former judges, bureaucrats and political power brokers. If and when the allottees decide to sell their plots, they can demand extremely high prices.
In a frank chat, Umashanker talks about how the government discretionary quota has been misused. Excerpts:
Why are bureaucrats, judges, former judges and politicians given housing plots in posh localities under government discretionary quota?
Who can refuse a good piece of land in Chennai city? It’s a way of rewarding people for good work done. No inquiry has been conducted in this matter so far. Discretionary quota is the prerogative of the government. After RTI came into existence, several activists are taking up the matter in court. Basically, there is no control mechanism or checks and balances. There is little transparency while awarding the GDQ — the plots are allotted without formal applications.
You were also allotted a plot in 2008 under the ‘unblemished government servant’ category. What happened to the allotment?
Yes, I was allotted a plot in Thiruvanmiyur Extension. Initial payment for the plot was Rs. 25 lakh. I never had that much money. So I requested the government to reduce the price. But there was no response. I did not want a house to compromise my integrity. So I never took possession. Later, in 2009, the government ordered a vigilance inquiry against me and cancelled the allotment. Frankly, I was not aware about the TNHB rules that bars a person having a plot, a flat or a house from claiming another plot.
Do you think the GDQ quota is a way of silencing people, buying them out?
Yes, it is a way of making you a part of the syndicate. Plots or flats are given to those civil servants, judges or relatives of the bureaucrats or politicians for complying with certain requirements. There is no procedure for IAS or IPS officers to get a land or plot or flat in a transparent manner. So everybody uses short cuts.