Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services is a perennially corrupt department. Fire Service Department’s clearance for Multi Storied Buildings (MSB) and No Objection Certificates for educational institutions, flats, shopping malls, hotels and renewal of the same every year is mandatory. Most of the fire service personnel working there are rooted in corruption barring a few. The few’s voice always get drowned by the majority.
In 1996, when this author served in the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption, there were multiple cases on Fire Service personnel probed by the organisation. The trend continues till now. In February 2022, crime branch arrested a leading Fire man named Sundararajan. The charge against him is that he forged Director Fire Service Karan Sinha IPS’s signature and issued NoC.
In the race towards the post of Head of Police Force, one Dalit officer BK Ravi IPS, was caught in a conspiracy and made the scape goat and in all likelihood will be circumvented from the HoPF race.
BK Ravi was appointed as Director of Fire and Rescue Services following the retirement of Karan Sinha IPS on 28 February 2022. Once the arrest of Leading Fire Man Sundararajan hit the news, for more than two months Karan Sinha stopped signing in any file regarding NOC or clearance of Fire Safety. Files accumulated.
34 files piled up in Northern Region; 16 in North Western Region; 26 in Western Region; 12 in Central Region and 8 in Southern Region. Ravi was appointed as Director of Fire Service on 7th March 2022.
Before Ravi could get accustomed to the department, pressure was mounted on him by Chief Minister’s Secretary I Udhayachandran to clear all the 96 files. Udhayachandran could not mount any pressure on Karan Sinha who kept the papers pending. But, he mounted pressure on BK Ravi, who is vulnerable due to his participation in the race for Head of Police Force (HoPF).
Among the three CM Secretaries, Udhayachandran holds the Home Portfolio and is being considered as the de facto CM in the official circles.
Though BK Ravi conveyed to Udhayachandran that he needs to conduct inspections before issuing clearances, he was told curtly that the files need to be signed immediately. BK Ravi meekly complied as he cannot afford to antagonise the all powerful bureaucrat in the state.
Fire Service Joint Director Priya Ravichandran is a celebrity of sorts. A Gounder by community, she commands huge clout in the fire department. In her 22 years of service, barring two years, she always remained in Chennai which is considered as the most lucrative region in the whole state. No one dares to transfer her.
In the year 2012, during a fire accident in Chennai Kalasa Mahal, Priya risked her life and in the process suffered grievous injuries. To accommodate her, a new post of Deputy Director of Fire Service, Headquarters was created earlier and the post continues even now.
Ms. Priya, made full use of her popularity and ensured that she is never out of Chennai Region. After acclimatising himself with the Department, BK Ravi decided to transfer out all those who are long standing in the department in the same station.
A total of 50 transfers were effected. Trouble started for Ravi. One such officer who was transferred due to long standing tenure was Saravana Babu, Divisional Fire Officer, Kanniyakumari. He was transferred to Nagapattinam. This Saravana Babu is reported to be very close to current HoPF Sylendra Babu. He is reported to be taking care of aged parents of Sylendra Babu. He is serving in Kanniyakumari district for 22 years.
Sylendra Babu personally requested BK Ravi to post him back to Kanniyakumari which was negatived. Ravi told Sylendra Babu that Saravana Babu was serving in the same district for 22 years and let him serve a few months in some other district after which he will be accommodated back.
Celebrity Fire Service Officer Priya Ravichandran too was facing transfer.
BK Ravi sent a proposal to Home Secretary to transfer Priya Ravichandran from the post of Joint Director, Northern Region to Fire Service Training College. He also suggested that Meenakshi Vijayakumar, the current Director of the Fire Service Training College may replace her. While the file was pending with Home Department, Priya Ravichandran got privy to the proposal. Courtesy : Murali, Camp Superintendent to Director of Fire Service.
This Murali has been Camp Assistant and then Camp Superintendent to the Director for more than 25 years. His loyalty lies with the Deputy Directors and Joint Directors of Fire Service than the incumbent Directors as they all have a short tenure, whereas the other fire service officers remain here for decades. He leaks all the file movement details to other fire officers, including confidential papers.
Priya Ravichandran started making her moves to shunt BK Ravi out before she is transferred out of her current post viz. Joint Director of Fire Service Northern Region.
She started defying the instructions of BK Ravi. Ravi issued Memos to Priya to include the following para in all the NOC / Clearance certificates she issues for Multi Storied Buildings and other buildings.
“It is certified that the facts and figures given in the inspection report about the building in question are true and correct. The High Rise Building Inspection Committee owns responsibility about the genuineness of the facts & figures / factual information given in the report”.
Priya Ravichandran flatly refused to issue the above certificate, in spite of written instructions by BK Ravi. Any disobedience of instructions in the uniformed service should be met with suspension. But till date Ms. Priya Ravichandran has not replied to a single Memo issued by BK Ravi.
Some of the Memos issued by BK Ravi to Priya Ravichandran can be seen below.
In another instance, Priya Ravichandran gave clearance to the Phoenix Mall which was reported to be violating various rules. The Phoenix Mall management has been hosting events in the back side of the mall, by erecting a permanent structure obstructing the movement of vehicles and an aerial ladder platform. Further, there was also written complaint from The Crest Residents Welfare Association about the events staged by Phoenix Mall, noise pollution, and obstruction.
However, Ms. Priya Ravichandran after inspecting the building, in her report dated 29.09.2022, (without the mandatory certificate) issued a NOC without even bothering to verify the facts from the resident welfare association.
BK Ravi, then directed Ms. Meenakshi Vijayakumar, Joint Director, Fire Service State Training Center to conduct a fresh inspection who promptly reported the violations and illegal construction.
Ravi shot a fresh Memo to Priya Ravichandran to explain “why the fire license for the Phoenix Mall premises was recommended by stating a false report”. For this too, Priya Ravichandran has not chosen to give a reply till date. This act of Priya Ravichandran is gross indiscipline and this is a fit case for suspension. But, her patrons ensured she is not harmed.
Subsequently, BK Ravi, addressed the Phoenix Mall management to “remove the temporary structure in the set back area immediately. If you fail to rectify the above said defects, the renewal of this license will not be considered and also it will be construed that you have violated the conditions of the license and your existing fire license will automatically become invalid”.
The last straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was the one that involves Tamil Nadu Assembly, Speaker Appavu.
Olympia Tech Park is a building situated in Pallavaram GST Road. This building was issued with a lock and seal notice by the CMDA for sealing 3rd to 11th floor. The building was sealed on 29th March 2022. Subsequently, the firm appealed to the government and the building was allowed to be de-sealed subject to the following condition.
“The government after careful consideration, hereby direct CMDA to de-seal the subject building and also direct the appellants either to restore the building as per the approved plan or to obtain revised Planning Permission as per Tamil Nadu Combined Building Rules, 2019 within three months from the date of receipt of this order failing which the CMDA is directed to pursue necessary enforcement action as per the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act.” (Emphasis supplied)
Ms Priya Ravichandran in October 2022, issued NOC without bothering to check whether the conditions imposed by the government have been complied or not, issued NOC for fire safety.
BK Ravi put the file on hold. On 20th October 2022, Olympia Tech Park (Chennai) Private Limited, strangely addressed Appavu Speaker to expedite their fire safety clearance file. In the letter, they also mentioned the name and phone numbers of Joint Director Priya Ravichandran and Director BK Ravi.
The reason they addressed the Assembly Speaker of all authorities is that, Alex son of TN Assembly Speaker Appavu was the one who was actively lobbying for the fire safety clearance. When Alex approached Priya Ravichandran she pointed to Ravi. Alex met Ravi he expressed his inability owing to the non-compliance of government conditions imposed for de-sealing the building.
This is when trouble started for Ravi. Alex and Priya Ravichandran, met Sabareesan, the son in law of Chief Minister who calls all the shots in this government. Within a week he was kept on compulsory wait and Ms. Seema Agarwal IPS, DGP was asked to assume additional charge.
While the order transferring BK Ravi was issued on 15th December 2022, there were frantic calls from the office of Udhayachandran and Home Secretary Phanindra Reddy, to BK Ravi’s camp superintendent Murali that BK Ravi should not sign any file except CTC and he should not have access to any file.
Why BK Ravi is treated like a persona non grata is perplexing. While several officers who are looting left, right and centre are adorning powerful posts, Ravi was treated as an undesirable person.
A source close to Ravi said, ‘BK Ravi is eligible for appointment to the post of HoPF. His competitors want to eliminate him from the race. Being an officer from Dalit community, and an outsider Ravi doesn’t have any godfathers in the state to protect him. This is why such treatment is meted out to him.
Ravi’s humiliation doesn’t end here. He was kept on compulsory wait for 15 days. There was no charge, no allegations, and no communication. He was wondering what to do. No one bothered to give him any alternate posting.
Ravi decided enough is enough and took up his matter to VCK MP Thol Thirumavalavan, who promised to meet the Chief Minister on his behalf.
The appointment was sought with CM Secretary I Udhayachandran. Not wanting the Chief Minister to know about the humiliation meted out to BK Ravi, Udhayachandran replied, he will get his posting orders in a couple of days and requested Ravi not to precipitate the issue.
Home Secretary called BK Ravi and told he will be posted as DGP, Crime Branch CID. However, BK Ravi, after 15 days, on 30th December 2022 was posted as DGP, Home Guards.
No one is a saint in government departments and particularly in this government there are absolutely no saints. Then why BK Ravi, an officer from Dalit community alone should be treated in such a shabby manner and posted to Home Guards?
All the power centres involved in this issue are caste Hindus. I could not give a proper denial to the source close to BK Ravi who claimed that Ravi has been victimised because of his community.
Ms. Priya Ravichandran refused to comment for the story when contacted. Similarly, CM Secretary I, Udhayachandran also did not respond to the questionnaire sent for this story.
When this government claims it is a social justice government, treating a very senior officer from Dalit community in such a humiliating manner doesn’t behove well. Can MK Stalin and his officers say with certainty that all the senior officers holding important positions from both in IAS and IPS are saints ? No one is a saint here. Then why such an unfair treatment to BK Ravi alone ?