In Tamil Nadu, U. Sagayam is almost always referred to by his name followed by his credentials: IAS. In recent years, it’s also varied between Sagayam for Chief Minister, even Sagayam for President. At 55, Ubagaram Pillai Sagayam, the bureaucrat with a reputation for incorruptibility and honesty, is once again in the news after he approached the Madras High Court last week, complaining of threats to his life from the granite mining lobby in the State.
He was appointed Legal Commissioner by the High Court on September 11, 2014, to inspect mining activities. He is on the verge of submitting his final report in the multi-crore granite scam reported in Madurai district to the High Court.
Why is his career eventful?
Mr. Sagayam’s has been an eventful career since his entry into the State government service as a Group I officer from a farmer’s family of Perunchunai village in Pudukottai district. He has reportedly faced 25 transfers in 27 years of service. In 1989, after clearing the UPSC examination, he served in the Central Secretariat Service in New Delhi for seven months before he decided to give it up to serve the people of Tamil Nadu.
The State first heard of Mr. Sagayam, after he, acting on a complaint of dirt found in a bottle of Pepsi, sealed the production unit of the multi-national company in Kancheepuram district, as district revenue officer-cum additional district magistrate, in 1999. Armed with a government laboratory report, which confirmed that the samples were “not fit for human consumption,” he banned sales.
What happened in 2011?
In 2011, the Election Commission of India posted him as Collector of Madurai, days before the Assembly elections, hoping his reputation for being a straightforward officer would stand him in good stead for a district that had become known for bribing voters.
Along with two IPS officers — P. Kannappan, Commissioner of Police, Madurai City, and Asra Garg, superintendent of Madurai rural district — Mr. Sagayam thwarted multiple attempts at bribing voters. They even registered a case against the son of the then Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, M.K. Alagiri, a Union Minister at that time.
During this stint, Mr. Sagayam was also recognised as a friend of the poor. He started Uzhavan Unavagam (farmers’ foodcourt) where poor farmers could sell traditional dishes. He helped in the rehabilitation of three great grandchildren of freedom fighter V. O. Chidambaram, who were in abject poverty. As Namakkal Collector, he uploaded details of his assets on the district administration’s website. Hundreds of youth, who gathered under the banner Ezhuchi Tamilagam in Madurai in 2016, appealed to Mr. Sagayam to enter politics to cleanse the system.
How did he get the granite case?
A petition under the Right to Information Act revealed that Mr. Sagayam had sent a report on massive looting by granite quarry operators in Madurai district. In the meantime, he was posted at Cooptex, where he lodged a complaint with the Chief Secretary, seeking a probe into the interference of Minister Gokula Indira in an assault case filed by his staff. Mr. Sagayam was transferred.
The next day, the High Court appointed him Legal Commissioner to probe the granite scam. It was after a long-drawn legal battle that the State government was forced to allow him to take up the investigation. Amid complaints of little cooperation from district officials, he took up the mammoth task of probing hundreds of complaints of landgrab from the people of Melur taluk.
His inquiry revealed looting of high-value granite from private and government land, destruction of waterbodies, diversion of rivers and several other irregularities in the export of granite, right under the nose of government officials. This was evident when vigilance officials raided the houses of two former Collectors of Madurai.
The prolonged inquiry was marked by allegations of wire tapping his room in Circuit House and goons of granite barons attempting to attack him and his team.
Photographs of Mr. Sagayam spending a night during his probe sleeping at a graveyard at E. Mallampatti, a remote village, went viral. After sunset, the police refused to exhume bodies, believed to be part of a human sacrifice ritual done by some granite quarry operators. Mr. Sagayam slept in the open to prevent destruction of material evidence.
Source: Bing News