Tamil Nadu

A suicide and many questions

Print edition : May 01, 2015

'Agri' S.S. Krishnamoorthy. Photo: A. Shaikmohideen

M. Senthil, Chief Engineer, Department of Agriculture Engineering. Photo: A. Shaikmohideen

PRESSURE from “politically influential persons” over the appointment of temporary drivers in the Agricultural Engineering Department in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district allegedly drove a senior official in the department to commit suicide.

S. Muthukumarasamy, 57, an Assistant Executive Engineer in the department, jumped in front of a speeding train at Thatchanendal on the outskirts of Tirunelveli town on February 20. Tamil Nadu Congress Committee President E.V.K.S. Elangovan claimed that “intimidation and abuse” over the issue of the drivers’ appointment by a few politically powerful persons in the Ministry of Agriculture forced the engineer to take the extreme step.

Elangovan raised the subject on public platforms and sought a probe into the suicide. This forced other party leaders like S. Ramadoss of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and M.K. Stalin of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) also to raise the issue. The DMK’s women’s wing secretary, M.K. Kanimozhi, visited the house of the engineer in Tirunelveli. The regional media, too, took up the case, which the police registered as one of suicide. The issue had reverberations in the Assembly.

The needle of suspicion pointed to the then Agricultural Minister “Agri” S.S. Krishnamoorthy, 56, a long-time member of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) from Tiruvannamalai district. Sensing the growing public displeasure, the AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa reportedly summoned the Minister to her residence and sought an explanation. Not satisfied with his response, she relieved him of the party post he had held and apparently asked Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam to drop him from the Cabinet. That was done on March 8.

To silence the opposition, which demanded a CBI inquiry, the State government instituted a CB-CID probe into the suicide. The preliminary investigation, based mainly on circumstantial evidence, mobile phone call logs and the personal diary of the engineer, led the investigators to Krishnamoorthy and M. Senthil Kumar, Chief Engineer in the department. After a detailed interrogation, they were arrested on April 4 under Sections 306 and 120-B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act and lodged at the Palayamkottai Central Prison in Tirunelveli on judicial remand.

Prima facie evidence suggests that the former Minister, through local party leaders and a few officials, exerted enormous pressure on Muthukumarasamy to “consider his list of names for drivers’ posts.” The engineer refused to yield and is said to have explained to them that he had shortlisted the drivers’ names on the basis of merit and seniority from the district employment office. He apparently told them that the District Collector had cleared the list and he could not do anything at that stage.

This irked the Minister and local party functionaries who had allegedly taken money from some candidates, promising them jobs as drivers. It is claimed that the Minister, through the local functionaries and Senthil Kumar, harassed Muthukumarasamy, demanding Rs.1.75 lakh for each driver’s post. “When he refused to budge, they intimidated and abused the official, which, according to the preliminary investigation, drove him to commit suicide,” said a senior police officer investigating the case.

But the issue, insiders claimed, had its share of intrigue. A highly placed source in the Department of Agriculture told “Frontline” that but for the intervention of Chief Secretary K. Gnanadesikan, who is related to the deceased engineer and who took the issue to Jayalalithaa, the death would have been recorded as a case of suicide.

Muthukumarasamy’s suicide leaves in its wake a string of doubts that need to be clarified. And the onus is now on the CB-CID to provide the answers.

Ilangovan Rajasekaran

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