The Kerala state government on Wednesday transferred Devikulam Sub-Collector VR Premkumar from the post and appointed him as Assistant District Magistrate of Sabarimala.
Though the government had transferred other officers along with Premkumar, the Congress has alleged that this particular transfer was due to pressure from district CPI (M) leaders who wanted Premkumar shunted out after he took stringent action against land encroachers in Munnar. The same fate was meted out to former Devikulam Sub-Collector Sreeram Venkitaraman in 2017 after his decision to evict a cross (Christian symbol) in Pappathi chola near Suryanelli.
VR Premkumar who was appointed as Devikulam Sub-Collector in July 2017 had taken strict action against land encroachers in Munnar. However the official’s actions had invited ire from various political groups and parties in Idukki. At one point, Electricity Minister MM Mani, had called him a lunatic.
CPI(M) leader and Devikulam MLA S Rajendran too had openly criticized the official in various occasions and there were rumours that he wanted the bureaucrat shunted out.
Reacting to the news of the transfer, Rajendran said, “We have no issues with the officials as such but only with the stand they have taken. This official didn’t do anything to solve the land issues in Munnar. I had submitted over three letters to the Chief Minister to change the official from his post.”
Youth Congress state president Dean Kuriakose alleged that the transfer was to help Idukki MP Joice George over the Kottakamboor land grab row. "The government was trying to remove him for long and now they got an opportunity in the guise of appointing him as Sabarimala ADM," he pointed out.
Joice George case
It was in November 2017 that VR Premkumar cancelled the title deed of 24 acres of land owned by Idukki MP Joice George and his family in the proposed Neelakurinji Sanctuary area at Kottakkamboor near Munnar. The decision created a big furore in the state. Later, Joice George, an independent MP supported by CPI, filed an appeal before the District Collector.
Last July, former Idukki District Collector GR Gokul ordered a review on the proceedings against Joice George MP and his family. In his order, Gokul pointed that Devikulam Sub- Collector had violated proceedings and not sought Joice George’s version before cancelling the title deed. However it has been learnt that the review process had not altered the Sub-Collector’s decision and this would soon affect the MP over the Kottakkamboor land encroachment issue.
Electricity minister MM Mani had called Premkumar a lunatic. "We will not approve the actions taken by a lunatic who came from somewhere. The Sub-Collector has committed something unbecoming of his position," Mani had said.
The order on Joice George’s land is not the only action taken by Premkumar to curtail encroachments in Munnar. He has seized equipments at various illegal construction sites in and around Munnar. After the devastating floods in August, the Sub-Collector tightened the law around construction activities in and around Munnar. The flood and landslides had affected Munnar severely, cutting off the hilltown from other parts of the state for many days.
Open protests against the Sub-Collector
At a press meeting in November 2017, Devikulam MLA S. Rajendran alleged that Devikulam Sub-Collector VR Premkumar had cheated during the Civil Services Examinations and that he was a puppet in someone's hand. He also alleged that the punitive actions by the Revenue and Forest Department was badly affecting the normal life of the natives in Munnar.
“Former Devikulam Sub-Collector Sriram Venkitaraman was another such immature fellow and we hoped he would become mature. However it did not happen. We hoped for the best when VR Premkumar took charge, but to no avail,” Rajendran had alleged during the press meet.
On August 10, 2017 a group of CPI(M) workers who visited Munnar RDO office to raise funds for EK Nayanar Academy which is being constructed in Kannur, invited the ire of the Sub-Collector, who, through his gunman, asked the party men to stop collecting money from the staff and leave the office. The 15-member group included CPI(M) District Committee member R Eswaran and local secretary Joby John. Though a heated argument followed, the gunman refused to let them meet the bureaucrat. Finally, the CPI(M) members had to leave the office. That evening, CPI(M) conducted a protest march at Munnar.