The phone rang at the office of the Anna Nagar Deputy Commissioner of Police on a sunny afternoon. An 85 year old lady was on the line, sounding agitated. Lending a patient ear, the DCP invited her to his office and promised her all help. “I cannot come to your office, Sir. I am almost bed-ridden.” After a round of reassurances, the senior citizen revealed her problem. The clock at home had stopped! No issue was too small for Karuna Sagar, who had a Sub Inspector sent to the residence pronto to have the clock repaired. “Anna Nagar was home to a sizeable geriatric population, with many elders home alone as their children were abroad. Our community policing aimed to address all their needs to make them feel safe and comfortable.” It was this empathy that has marked the three decade long innings of this 1991 batch IPS officer of the Tamil Nadu Cadre.
That was his soft side. The walking stick could seamlessly take the shape of the lathi. At the start of his career, rowdies in Kumbakonam, where he was first posted as ASP, woke up every morning to smell the degree coffee emanating from tough policing. The rich business hub and religious town “spawned its share of anti-social elements”, who were reined in by the young, no-nonsense cop. Having shot into the limelight in his maiden assignment, the local MLA representing Chidambaram Sub Division “specifically asked” for Karuna Sagar to be posted there to put the kibosh on murders and caste violence.
Bootleggers in Dindigul were the next to face the heat. A known depredator, who had dropped out of the Army had been on the run. A raid led by Sagar ensued. Finally cornered in Usilampatti, the notorious criminal shot himself. The fear of khakhi that this lanky officer brought about was all pervading that many law breakers chose to pack their bags. Next in his list was Tirunelveli that was “in the thick of caste riots.” Within the first few years of his stint, Sagar earned his spurs as a ‘go to’ officer to quell violence and maintain law and order.
What followed were eventful postings in the Chennai Police. Sagar is one of the few officers who has served in the Traffic Wing in different capacities – as Deputy Commissioner (North & South) and later on promotion, as Additional Commissioner – Traffic for the city. Novel measures were introduced to make roads safer. Like hoardings with Breaking News updates on accidents. Like fatal accident spots marked on roads to forewarn motorists. Like awareness short films including one featuring actors Khushbu, Revathy & Sarath Kumar which was then released by DMK leader M.K.Stalin. Like a revamped traffic police website, a renovated control room and slick logos. In early 2000, the city witnessed its lowest fatal accident rate in a decade.
Buoyed by a good rapport with his immediate bosses in Traffic, particularly R.Sekar and G.U.G. Sastry, Sagar had the leeway to implement new ideas. Timers at signals and the concept of a Green Corridor, initially on an experimental basis on Anna Salai, have been replicated across the city and State and come in handy when human organs are transported for transplants.
It was not just L&O and Traffic. Crime Detection too has been his forte. During his posting as the Deputy Inspector General of the CB CID, the murder of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MGR’s foster son Vijayan by hired killers hit the headlines. The case was transferred from the Chennai Police to the CB CID. “We not only detected the case but also got a conviction.”
When Tiruchirapalli beckoned, Sagar rose to the challenge. As the Commissioner, he delved into traffic congestion on the Gandhi Market Main Road that had been taken over by iron merchants. “We made that a bus route and restored traffic on this stretch”.
Soon enough, Sagar was back in Chennai as the Additional Commissioner – North and on promotion, as the Additional Director General of Police – Establishment & Home Guards. Unlike many of his batchmates, Sagar did not opt for deputation for 27 years in Tamil Nadu. The urge for a “change”, a ringside view of “central government functioning” and an “all India focus on policing” with a “bigger spectrum” took over 3 years ago. The wider turf now is the Bureau of Police Research & Development in the national capital. As the Director – Modernisation, his thrust area is cutting edge research and technology. “The Ministry of Home Affairs has a Cyber Crime Coordination Centre with many verticals. Our role is to prevent, investigate and fight this menace with modern and robust tools.”
Another fascinating area is drone and counter drone technology. “While drones can be force multipliers in a crowd, there are also rogue drones that are programmed for criminal activities. With RF and laser based technology, we either immobilise them or take them down.” It’s either a hard or soft kill, in police parlance.
Not many are aware that Sagar has been involved in philanthropy for a few decades, minus the tom-toming. The early struggles are still clearly etched in his mind. Although his father the late A.P.Singh, a retired Joint Registrar of a Co-operative Society in Bihar and his mother Urmila Devi, a home maker, hailed from a middle class background, this fiercely independent tall, dark and handsome post graduate in History from Delhi’s Hansraj College, had barely fifty rupees in his wallet when he married his sweetheart Anju. With a teaching assignment at Rajdhani & Hindu College, the couple sailed through. Things looked up when he stormed into the Indian Police Service in his third attempt.
During floods or cyclones and now the pandemic, this conscientious top cop has almost adopted villages in Jahanabad and Arwal districts of Bihar, close to his native place. Covid Relief Kits comprising groceries, pulse oximeters and oxygen concentrators have been provided to deserving folks like migrant labourers in these areas. The altruism didn’t go unnoticed. It has been raining awards this year. The Bharat Gaurav Award was conferred on him for going beyond the call of duty. The Top Professionals Award and an entry into the London based World Book of Records have adorned his shelf of honour. Keeping them company is the President’s Medal for Meritorious Service. The crowning glory has been the recent honorary doctorate from the Sikkim Professional University for his commendable strides in civil service & philanthropy.
A two minute conversation with this suave and debonair officer will reveal what a voracious reader he is. There was a time when you could find a ‘new arrival’ either at the good old Landmark and Odyssey book store or the Sagars Residence! Not long ago, his sprawling bungalow in Manapakkam had a library stacked with 4500 books across every genre. Tragically, the entire collection – all his favourite bestsellers, biographies and autobiographies, except about a 100 titles, were destroyed by the 2015 Chennai Deluge.
The Sagars are all intellectuals in their own right. While his charming and deeply spiritual wife Anju is a talented interior designer, the couple has two dashing sons – Pratham, a law student with a keen interest in psephology and Paarth, now preparing for the Civil Services Exam. Having spent 27 years without a break in Chennai, the family misses the city, home to a large circle of friends.
Cruising towards his farewell parade in less than 2 years, Sagar seems strategically and uncharacteristically cagey about his post retirement plans. Is political baptism in the offing? There’s a firm denial. Persist and that elicits a customary chuckle with his pet line “Chumma Iru”! 2024 will reveal whether the salute will make way for folded hands.
(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7)
Beautifully and gracefully crafted the character and personality of Mr. karuna Sagar in such a short place. In fact, the life and career of Mr. Karuna is so elaborate that you need to write a book on him. He is a true Gentleman I one person.
I know him personally and I can vouch that he is a *coconut* …….Soft and hard at the safe time.
May God give him many many more years in police job and social life. We in Chennai miss him as much as he misses Chennai.
Lovely read, a peep into the multifaceted personality of the self made man in khaki.