The Siddaramaiah-led Karnataka government has been rocked by the death of an IAS officer, DK Ravi, who was found dead in his south Bengaluru apartment on the evening of 16 March. The day after the news broke, the Opposition parties ramped up the pressure on the government and went on to stage an overnight sit-in at the Legislative Assembly, demanding a CBI probe into the 36-year-old bureaucrat’s death.
Five months into his posting as the additional commissioner of commercial taxes, Ravi had created panic in several quarters in Bengaluru. At the time of his death, as many as 434 realtors were still coming to terms with the notices he had served on them for evasion of value-added tax (VAT) on the sale of hundreds of properties in Bengaluru. He had also threatened to open up the transaction files of the past five years to enquire into the evasion of taxes to the tune of hundreds of crores.
Ravi had become a force to reckon with within five months of his moving to Bengaluru. In December 2014, he had led a simultaneous raid on 67 stores of Rajesh Exports Limited, a prominent jeweller in the city, and discovered tax evasion on a large scale. Similar raids on cinemas in January brought to light the evasion of entertainment tax running into hundreds of crores.
His integrity and the hot pursuit of tax evaders had made him dear to the people in general and a source of worry for many others. The statewide violent protests following his death, especially in Kolar, where he had served as a district commissioner, posed a challenge for the administration. The protests revived memories of the time when he had been transferred from Kolar, a district adjacent to Bengaluru. Then, too, thousands of locals had poured into the streets protesting against the move.
That an IAS officer could become so popular among the locals in less than a year of being posted as the district commissioner had surprised many. The young bureaucrat had earned the reputation of being fearlessly honest and had taken on the sand mafia in Kolar district, much to the discomfort of the illegal sand mining mafia and several politicians allegedly linked to it. His popularity owed a lot to his relentless drive to clear encroachments on government lands in the district.
A bandh was observed in Kolar town on 17 March to mourn the death of the young bureaucrat.
It was around lunch time on 16 March that Ravi’s wife Kusuma learnt that he had not gone to office and was not responding to calls. Soon after, she and her father found the 2009 batch IAS officer hanging from a ceiling fan in his ninth-floor flat.
“Prima facie it appears to be a case of suicide. His body was found hanging from a ceiling fan,” Bengaluru Police Commissioner MN Reddi told reporters on the night of 16 March. The next morning, Karnataka Home Minister KJ George told the Assembly, “Preliminary investigation has shown that it is a case of suicide by hanging. The police will investigate what prompted the young IAS officer to commit suicide. I have ordered a CID probe into his death and the report will be submitted soon.”
However, the Opposition BJP and the Janata Dal (Secular) would have none of it and demanded a CBI probe into the incident. The two parties alleged that the government was trying to cover up the reason that drove the officer to committing suicide and suggested that it could even have been a murder.
Leader of the Opposition Jagadish Shettar of the BJP was unrelenting in his stance and demanded a CBI probe. The legislators of the Opposition parties spent the intervening night of 17-18 March in the Assembly complex to lodge their protest. “Let the government hand over the enquiry to the CBI, which will investigate every aspect of the case. How can the home minister come out with an enquiry report even before the post-mortem report is out?” asked Shettar.
The sentiment was echoed by former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy, who said, “There should be an enquiry into all the cases that Ravi was probing into, and only then the truth will come out.”
Several theories about the reasons for his death were floating around even before the final rites of the deceased officer were performed at Kunigal in Tumkur district.
The question that continues to haunt the minds of many is why would Ravi go to his office on Monday morning, only to leave within 40 minutes, go to his apartment where he was planning to shift to with his parents in the next few days, and hang himself. What could have possibly driven him to such desperation that he would choose to kill himself?
Tehelka has come to know from sources that the officer was under tremendous familial pressure. Ravi’s wife Kusuma is the daughter of a Congress politician, Hanumantharayappa, who had allegedly been mounting pressure on him to go slow against some of the tax evaders in the city. Being well-connected in the ruling Congress party, it was Hanumantharayappa who had requested Siddaramaiah to transfer Ravi to Bengaluru.
It is also believed that Ravi, who used to stay at Hanumantharayappa’s house during the weekends and had left home just an hour before he committed suicide, was involved in some kind of family dispute.
Ravi’s family, however, was quick to dismiss the suicide theory. What adds to the suspicion that there was some foul play is the fact that no suicide note was found. The police are looking into the call details of the three mobile phones and the iPad that was recovered from the spot.
A source in the Bengaluru City Police told Tehelka that Ravi had got threats from the land mafia in the past and had also got calls from underworld dons based in Dubai.
“He had a lot of dreams and wanted to reach great heights,” says Ravi’s brother DK Ramesh. “Yet he never forgot his humble origins and always empathised with the poor.”
The wave of protests by the people and pressure from the Opposition has forced the state government to go on the back foot. Although it is not yet clear whether the real estate lobby or the land mafia were indeed so peeved with Ravi that they either killed him or drove him to suicide, his death has brought their murky dealings out in the open once again. The spotlight has been turned on how they have evaded taxes running into hundreds of crores in a city that is starved of funds.
If the probe into Ravi’s death leads to unearthing the nexus between the land mafia and the administration, it could well be the honest bureaucrat’s final contribution to cleaning up the system.