Right to preach can't be taken away: Evangelist dares TN govt

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Chennai
  • Updated: Jan 29, 2015 18:01 IST

IAS officer C Umashankar has said he will challenge a Tamil Nadu government directive asking him not to indulge "preaching and propagating activities" saying it infringes on his right of freedom of speech and expression as well as to practice and preach a religion of his choice.

A defiant Umashankar, a 1990 batch Indian Adminsitrative Service officer from Tamil Nadu cadre, told Hindustan Times on Wednesday that the government order is wrong and he is consulting his lawyer.

"It is my right to preach whatever religion I chose and nobody can take it away. It is a right guaranteed by the Constitution, which is over above the service rules," Umashankar said.

Umashankar is at present posted as commissioner, disciplinary proceedings, which he says is a position way too junior for an IAS officer with status equivalent to that of a district revenue officer. He is 50.

"I am being punished for being an upright and honest officer, who unearthed scams of gigantic proportions. No one is questioning that, but they want to question my right to preach and practice a religion," said Umashankar adding he would not bow down to any of the RSS actions.

The Tamil Nadu government ordered the IAS officer to stop preaching and propagating Christianity and said action would be taken if he did not stop.

Tamil Nadu chief secretary, K Gnanadesikan had in a letter to Umashankar said, "It has been brought to the notice of government that you are going to take part in preaching and propagating activities in Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi and Kanyakumari districts from January 24 to January 26 which are likely to cause communal disharmony and disturbance to public order."

"You are directed not to indulge in such activities which are unbecoming of a member of the service, failing which, necessary and appropriate action would be taken under relevant provisions of All India Services (conduct) Rules, 1968 read with the All India Services (Discipline & Appeal ) Rules, 1969."

The notice from the government cites Rule 3 (I) of the All India Civil Service Conduct Rules which says every government servant shall at all times maintain absolute integrity, maintain devotion to duty and do nothing which is unbecoming of a civil servant.

Umashankar said he had cancelled his meetings following the order but added it was not in the true spirit of the Constitution.

"I am preaching and propagating the religion of my choice, in my own free time and with my own resources," the IAS officer said.

The Constitution's Article 25 says public servants are entitled to profess, practice or propagate any religion freely in their private lives. But the government says officers should conduct themselves in a manner without causing any impression or feeling that they may act in a prejudicial way.

Welcoming the government order, Hindu Munnani founder Rama Gopalan said on Tuesday his organisation had often condemned Umashankar for preaching and propagating a particular denomination of Christianity.

The officer's action was in contravention of service rules and the Hindu Munnani had filed a complaint against him, Gopalan added.

BJP leader Subramanian Swamy too has sought action against the IAS official, to which Umashankar said "Subramanian Swamy is not an authority".

Twitter too was abuzz with two hastags - #IASEvangelist and Umashankar - trending and most criticising the officer asking him to resign.

"#IASEvangelist Uma shanker should resign from service to continue with healing. He should not fool the people under the guise of Holy Bible," @MissionShravan posted.

"What is this rubbish about #IASEvangelist only preaches after hours. A govt official must up hold values at all times!" @JasumatiPatel added.

This is not Umashankar's first run-in with the state government. In 2010, he was suspended after doubts were raised about the genuineness of his Dalit certificate. The suspension was revoked later.

He also unearthed several scams in Tamil Nadu, including the cremation shed scam case in the 1991-96 AIADMK government that resulted in the conviction of then minister C Selvaganapathy.

During the DMK regime of 2006-11, Umashankar was appointed head of Arasu Cable TV after a tiff between then chief minister M Karunanidhi and his grandnephews, the Maran brothers.

(With PTI inputs)

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