THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: IAS officer Sriram Venkataraman, who became popular following his crusade against land encroachments in Munnar during his stint as Devikulam sub-collector, was arrested on Saturday after his speeding car, driven allegedly in an inebriated state, killed a journalist here.
The journalist, K M Basheer, 35, a native of Tirur in Malappuram, was the Thiruvananthapuram bureau chief of ‘Siraj’ daily. He was returning home after attending a meeting in Kollam when the accident took place around 1.05 am Saturday.
The IAS officer was travelling with a female friend after a late-night party to celebrate his return to service as Survey Director when his car rammed Basheer’s motorbike near Museum Junction here. While Sriram suffered minor injuries, his friend Wafa Firoz escaped unhurt.
Sriram’s eviction drive in Munnar as an upright officer gave him a hero image with him gaining a wide fan following on social media. He was hailed by many as a ‘brave officer’ who was ready to go to any extent to ensure justice.
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The accident sparked a public outcry after the police allegedly dragged their feet right from the beginning in an attempt to cover up the incident.
However, they recorded Sriram’s arrest by evening, after much persuasion. He was charged under Sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 279 (rash driving) of the IPC. The police acceded to invoke non-bailable sections after state police chief Loknath Behera instructed them to do so following mounting pressure.
Sriram has been remanded in 14-day judicial custody. As the officer is undergoing treatment at a private hospital, the magistrate came to the hospital. According to police, Sriram will continue in the hospital and upon his discharge, he will be shifted to sub-jail. The police could not take his fingerprints as his arms were also injured in the accident.
The police collected his blood samples only after nine hours despite a witness to the accident testifying that Venkataraman, who was behind the wheel, was in an inebriated condition. Though the police had initially said Wafa was driving the car at the time of accident, they allowed her to leave the accident spot without recording her statement. Later, the police summoned her after the alleged lapse was pointed out by media.
Interestingly, when pointed out alleged lapses on the part of the police, Additional City Police Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Gurudin said: “We have to follow the legal formalities. Law says none can be compelled to provide blood samples.” However, he later confirmed that the IAS officer was drunk while driving the car.
According to an eyewitness, Basheer’s motorcycle and the speeding car were moving in the same direction from Vellayambalam to Museum side when the accident occurred. The car driver lost control of the vehicle and rear-ended the motorbike. Though Basheer was taken to Medical College Hospital by the police and passers-by, his life could not be saved.
According to Wafa, who owns the car, she brought the vehicle to a club of civil services officers at Kowdiar on Sriram’s instruction. She admitted to the police that Sriram was drunk while he got into the car. “Sriram wanted to drive the car after we reached Cafe Coffee Day at Kowdiar. From there, he drove the car at high speed. Though I requested him to slow down, he refused,” a police officer quoted Wafa as saying.
Jithu, an eyewitness, said Sriram requested him to take Basheer on his scooter to a hospital immediately after the incident.
Basheer’s body was kept at the Thiruvananthapuram Press Club, where Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, among others paid homage.