The Congress on Monday staged a dharna in front of the District Collectorate here to protest the appointment of Sriram Venkitaraman as District Collector of Alappuzha.
The protest organised under the aegis of the District Congress Committee was inaugurated by KPCC general secretary and former MLA A.A. Shukhoor. Mr. Shukhoor said that Venkitaraman was a tainted bureaucrat. He urged the State government to immediately revoke his appointment as Collector.
Mr. Venkitaraman, currently Joint Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, is accused of alcohol-impaired driving that resulted in the death of a journalist in Thiruvananthapuram in 2019. His new posting as Collector came as the trial in the case is progressing.
Senior journalist and Thiruvananthapuram bureau chief of Siraj Daily K.M. Basheer was killed after a speeding car allegedly driven by Venkitaraman rammed his motorcycle on August 3, 2019. The IAS officer was reportedly in an inebriated state when the accident happened. Despite the eyewitness account that Venkitaraman was drunk and indeed behind the wheel, the police did not subject him to a blood alcohol test in the hours following the accident citing that the car was driven by a woman.
After the initial investigation by the local police came under intense scrutiny for trying to shield the IAS officer, the probe was later handed over to a special investigation team. The investigators collected scientific evidence that revealed Venkitaraman was at the wheel and the vehicle was over-speeding. The charge sheet in the case was filed in a Thiruvananthapuram court in 2020.
Following the incident, Mr. Venkitaraman was placed under suspension by the State government. However, he was reinstated into service in March 2020 and made joint secretary in the health department.
The decision of the State government to appoint a person facing criminal charges as Collector, a post with magisterial powers, has raised a few eyebrows and invited wrath from various quarters. Kodikunnil Suresh, MP, has deplored the government decision. In a statement issued here on Monday, Mr. Suresh said that Venkitaraman's posting as Collector was a challenge to the people. It was another example of the Left Democratic Front government's arrogance and brashness. The government should reconsider the decision and appoint another IAS officer as Collector in Alappuzha.
The Kerala Muslim Jamath organised a march in Alappuzha town in the evening in protest against the government's move.
Though the government has issued the appointment order, Mr. Venkitaraman is yet to assume office as the District Collector of Alappuzha.