THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: When Chief Minister Oommen Chandy announced in September 2011 that Kerala will soon have a whistle-blower protection policy, no one welcomed the brief announcement more than M Sreedharan. In April 2012, the policy is still under creation, but Sreedharan has already applied for protection under it, perhaps becoming the first person to do so.
A former charge hand/crane operator at the Travancore Titanium Products (TTP), Sreedharan shot into the spotlight in the 1990s after he was ‘’forced into voluntary retirement’’ for blowing the lid on the alleged corruption in TTP. Today, 21 years down the line, the man is still fighting to get his service regularised so that he can claim his service benefits, or, if not, compensation.
Last month, fed up with the apathy, the 66-year-old wrote to the State Government demanding that he be given protection under the proposed whistle-blowers’ protection policy. ‘’I did it not because I fear death, but in protest against the gross injustice meted out to a family for over two decades because one of its members reported on corruption,’’ he said.
Sreedharan joined the TTP as crane operator in 1974. He says problems started when he detected anomalies in the volume of ilmenite cargo and reported it. In June 1991, he was ‘’forced into voluntary retirement.’’ He started a one-man fight against the injustice, staging sit-ins in front of the Secretariat and the residence of the Industries Minister, which received wide coverage in the media. He was taken back into service on December 1, 2003, but on contract, when A K Antony was Chief Minister.
Sreedharan retired from service in February 2006, but his service was not regularised because of 30 factual errors in an April 1995 order of the Kerala Public Men (Prevention of Corruption) Commission pertaining to his case. Over the years, only four of the 30 errors were corrected. And in that, only the dates, not the corresponding facts, he says. Now his case is before the Lok Ayukta. At his Mannammoola home, files upon dusty files stacked against the wall stand testimony to the protracted battle. He fights his case without the help of a lawyer, and knows all the relevant sections of the law by heart.
The battle has been replete with ironies. One such is P K Kunhalikutty’s present stint as Industries Minister in the Oommen Chandy cabinet. When Sreedharan was forced into retirement in 1991, he had lodged his first complaint with none other than Kunhalikutty, then a first-time Industries Minister. Two decades later, Sreedharan is still fighting for a justice that has cruelly eluded him.