U. Sagayam is a senior IAS officer in Tamil Nadu, who is widely known and appreciated for his anti-corruption activities. He has often annoyed politicians and influential personalities in the state by rejecting bribes. So much so, that he has been transferred over 20 times in more than two decades of public service, for his efforts to eliminate corruption.
“Sagayam is an iconic IAS cadre who takes pride in being honest. He is an enthusiastic officer in whatever he does,” T. Udhayachandran, a fellow IAS officer who has known Sagayam for years, once told Live Mint.
Here are 10 amazing things to know about this honest officer. He will make you believe in the power of civil service.
1. Ubagarampillai Sagayam is the youngest of five sons of a farmer, who says his mother taught him honesty.
Hailing from Perunchunai village in Tamil Nadu, Sagayam earned his Master’s degrees in social work and law. His father was a farmer and his mother a housewife.
“Our adjoining field had mango trees and my friends and I would pick the fallen fruit. But my mother made me throw the mangoes away, saying I should enjoy only what is mine,” he told Outlook Magazine.
2. He joined the IAS in 1991 as the Sub-Divisional Magistrate of Ootacamund.
U. Sagayam came into the limelight right away for accusing the District Collector of favouritism towards operators of large tea estates. This led to the first of his many transfers.
3. The sign on his office door reads: “Reject bribes, hold your head high.”
On joining a new post, the first thing that the officer does is to place this sign in his office.
“I know I sit under a dangerous slogan and probably alienate people. But I have been the same Sagayam from Day 1. Standing up against corruption is not for a season. Nor is it a fad. It’s forever,” he said.
4. In 2000, he sealed Pepsi Cola’s bottling plant near Chennai after finding dirt in many bottles.
By this time, Sagayam was the Additional District Magistrate in Kanchipuram. This was where he detected dirt floating in many Pepsi bottles. Refusing to give in to external pressure, he sealed the plant.
5. In 2004, he confiscated 5,000 subsidized domestic gas cylinders in three days.
Picture for representation only. Source: Wikimedia
When Sagayam was the Deputy Commissioner of Civil Supplies in Chennai, he found that restaurants were using gas cylinders illegally, leading to a loss to the exchequer.
6. In 2009, he created history by becoming the first IAS officer in TN to upload details of his assets on the district website.
After he was named the district collector of the Namakkal district, Sagayam posted the details of his personal assets – a bank balance of Rs 7,172 and a house worth Rs. 9 lakh in Madurai, jointly owned with his wife. He was 47 years old at that time and used the ‘purely voluntary disclosure’ provision under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, uploading the information during the RTI week.
“It will create confidence in the people and also motivate the administration at large, as the impression of public servants in the eyes of the people is at low ebb,” he had told Deccan Herald.
7. In March 2011, the election commission hand-picked Sagayam to oversee elections in Madurai.
Picture for representation only. Source: Flickr
He was supposed to ensure that the 2011 Legislative Assembly elections were conducted fairly. Arriving in the state 20 days before the elections started, he conducted a campaign to educate voters about the law and to urge them to reject bribes. He also investigated attempts of vote-buying in the region and confiscated Rs. 20 lakh that was intended for distribution among voters. He was later awarded an appreciation certificate from the Chief Election Commissioner, S Y. Quraishi, for conducting free and fair elections.
8. In 2012, he submitted a 13-page report to the TN government, showing that the state had lost Rs. 16,000 crore to illegal quarrying in Madurai
As the District Collector, Sagayam toured quarries and visited mines to investigate reports of illegal quarrying. He was working on the basis of an anonymous petition and found that some companies were stealing granite from neighbouring sites. Right after he submitted the report, he was transferred to the post of Managing Director of the Tamil Nadu Handloom Cooperative. This was his 19th transfer.
9. In 2015, he became a hero by spending the night in a graveyard to protect evidence.
This was after he was appointed by the Tamil Nadu High Court to probe a multi-crore granite scam in Madurai on September 11, 2014. He approached the local police to exhume bodies of victims who were allegedly buried in the graveyard after a ‘human sacrifice’ performed by a granite quarry operator. When the police refused, he decided to spend the night at the graveyard himself because he was worried the evidence would be tampered with. He was awake almost the whole night and spent time chatting with journalists and local people.
10. Over 5000 villagers protested against one of his transfers, forcing its withdrawal.
In Namakkal, Sagayam attempted to reform the Village Administrative Officers (VAOs). On learning that the VAOs were living in the cities, far away from the villages they were supposed to oversee, he tried to persuade them to live in the villages. When the VAOs and local politicians tried to have him transferred, over 5,000 villagers protested against the attempt, forcing the withdrawal of the transfer orders.