Umashankar and Arasu Cable

Mr. C.Umashankar is an IAS officer with a difference. He participates in net discussion forums, posts his opinions on e-governance issues, corruption and so on. This is not your average IAS officer profile.

He is also famous for exposing the ‘cremation sheds’ scandal during the AIADMK regime at a time when some of his peers in the service were oiling the wheels of  government to siphon out public funds.

For his attempts to stanch the flow of taxpayers’ money from the haemorrhagic Dravidian party government system, he was rewarded with a punishment posting, as Commissioner of Disciplinary Proceedings (CDP) in Salem (some other talented IAS officers have suffered a similar fate during that infamous period, and CDP Tirunelveli was reserved for these chosen few). In fact, such was the heat on Mr. Umashankar that he had to send his family out of the State for safety reasons.

At ELCOT, Mr.Umashankar rocked the IT dealer cartels by working out an arrangement with laptop makers to sell full-featured machines for far less than the market rate. That should have been welcomed by a low-PC penetration nation, but he drew flak.

A fresh chapter has been opened with his shift out of Arasu Cable, a corporation started by the DMK Government with the high-sounding (and in retrospect hollow) goal of providing cheap cable access to the millions.

As everyone knows, a lot flows through the business of piping entertainment and news to TV sets in homes in India. The main commodity that flows through these cables is slush money, since the weak-kneed television regulators at TRAI develop chills at the very thought of cleaning up the system.

Thus, when Mr. Karunanidhi followed up on the threat made earlier by Jayalalitha to start a government cable service, the move received a huge welcome not just from subscribers, but the local cable operators as well. After all, despite the filth that one must wade through in government offices, there is some accountability at the end of the day, and questions can be asked in legislatures.

Mr. Umashankar made speed with Arasu, and launched services at an initial reported cost of about Rs. 30 crores in some towns. The hundred rupee service represented a big leap forward.

Sadly, warring politicians can close ranks, and when the circumstances that facilitated Arasu’s entry changed, Umashankar found himself on the wrong side of the fence. He was in the bizarre predicament of having to keep Arasu cable running, when the political bosses who had started it, wanted to kill it quickly.

When shady elements cut the cables of the tax-funded service, to disrupt it, he approached the police. After all, this was loss being caused to the exchequer by criminals. The police seemed strangely unresponsive.

Soon enough, Mr. Umashankar was again on the move — removed from Arasu cable, and sent off to the small savings department on transfer. This was a familiar move, in the same class as a past stint in the Tamil Nadu Industrial Investment Corporation, a small-and-medium-loans government agency of the pre-liberalisation era that is still maintained as  a vestige (and perhaps doing something useful).

Apparently, the DMK regime found no use for his many other proven talents – re-engineering government with IT to improve service delivery in public distribution, regional transport, old age pensions and revenue records – for which he won kudos in Tiruvarur District in the late 1990s.

The current effort is to try and smear Mr.Umashankar with allegations of impropriety in his administrative decisions in recent years.

The question that is before all of us is this:  What is the status of Arasu Cable today? If the government does not want to run it, why did it spend Rs. 30 crores of tax funds on the project? Was it to settle scores with someone and now that there is none to settle,  the project has been shelved?

Does the DMK government realise that causing loss to the exchequer wilfully is legally actionable at a future date? There are files now created by Mr. Umashankar and his successor, Mr. Davidar, relating to losses arising from cable cutting, on which the police has not acted.


One Comment

  1. Dear Anant,

    I feel sorry for all the small cable operators who have to dance to the Government’s (the Family’s?) whims and fancies.
    No wonder IAS officers just prefer to toe the Govt line instead of taking tough decisions.


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