It is a scam that has powerful people on the run, and senior bureaucrats under investigation. An official estimate of the scale of the illegal quarrying of granite and its export from Madurai is yet to emerge, though figures of Rs 16,000 crore and Rs 35,000 crore are doing the rounds. The man responsible for unearthing the scam, which has reportedly been going on for years, is Ubagarampillai Sagayam, the former district collector of Madurai.
Sagayam is an IAS officer who says he has never been offered a bribe because he made his stand clear from the day he joined the services. No wonder he has been shunted around frequently — he has been transferred 18 times in his 20-year career. Ask him why and he says diplomatically: “The government has the authority to transfer me and the wisdom… they feel I will be suitable in different areas at different times.” That’s not the full story. Within days of submitting a detailed report to the state government on the illegal granite quarrying and related encroachments in Madurai, the Tamil Nadu-cadre officer was given marching orders from the district and made managing director of Handloom Weavers’ Cooperative Society, or Cooptex, in Chennai.
The government, it is widely believed, swung into action only after Sagayam’s letter, sent in May, was leaked to the public in August, though the present collector, Anshul Mishra, says he had already planned to survey all 400 quarries in the district. “After the report was leaked we reorganised our efforts and decided to focus on the 175 granite quarries,” says Mishra. Of the quarries surveyed so far, violations have been found in 93, while 58 are illegal. “He is a brave and courageous officer,” Mishra says of his predecessor.
Sagayam has made powerful enemies in the past too. Madurai, in southern Tamil Nadu, is acknowledged to be the fiefdom of M K Azhagiri, DMK leader M Karunanidhi’s elder son, and allegations of money and “muscle power” being used to swing elections were rife. The civil servant was picked by the Election Commission to be the district collector of Madurai so that the 2011 assembly elections could be conducted fairly. He arrived in the district 20 days before it went to polls and embarked on a campaign to educate the voter and enforce the law. “Initially, I spoke extensively to the chambers of commerce, NGOs, Rotary Clubs and the like but I wasn’t satisfied; so I shifted my focus to college students, emphasising that they should vote without accepting money, and they should tell their parents the same.” He also stepped up vigilance to make it difficult for political parties to bribe voters, and seized Rs 20 lakh that was meant for distribution.
For his efforts, he had two cases registered against him, one alleging that he was forcing officers to file cases against DMK, the ruling party then, and another claiming he was advocating a change in power in the state (both dismissed). he received a personal commendation from then Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi for having successfully conducted free and fair polls.
Earlier, Sagayam was in the news for being the first officer in the state to voluntarily disclose his assets (property valued at Rs 9 lakh owned jointly with his wife and a bank balance of Rs 7,127) on the district website when he was the collector of Namakkal. “This was part of my effort to change public perception that all officers are corrupt… Taking action against the corrupt is one aspect, but you yourself need to be a role model,” says the 49-year-old.