While the coal mining scam, that plunged the Parliament and the UPA into an annoying impasse, continues to outrage the nation, emerging details of a mega scam brewing in Tamil Nadu show that the wholesale plunder of the country’s natural resources is an old practice and more widespread than what is apparent.
For a state, Rs 16,500 crore, that the scam in question is estimated at, is perhaps as big as a Rs 186,000 crore at the centre. And that it has been going on for years shows that people with patronage from opposite political camps might be involved.
For the time being, the heat is on the granite barons of the state and Durai Dayanidhi, the son of Karunanidhi scion, DMK strongman and union minister MK Alagiri, who is reportedly on the run.
The police has issued a lookout notice for him. The granite company, with which he is allegedly associated, is among the two top violators. The key men of both the companies have surrendered and are in custody. However, people close to Dayanidhi have denied the allegations.
In a nutshell, the scam is about illegal quarrying of granite by a handful of companies in Madurai, in southern Tamil Nadu for several years. They not only stole the granite, but also caused extensive environmental damage besides grabbing land from people including policemen.
The illegal operations have also reportedly deprived farmers of their livelihood. Officials of the Tamil Nadu Minerals Corporation (TAMIN), departments of revenue, and geology and mining and the police have allegedly connived with the quarry mafia. Apparently, one company alone owned about 3000 acres of land in Madurai and surrounding places.
Besides the kingpins who have surrendered, the DVAC (Department of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption) has arrested some of the officials, including a deputy director of the department of geology and mining. The DVAC is continuing its raids and investigation.
The story of the granite mafia wouldn’t have been out, but for the leak of a letter by former Madurai collector and a Braveheart civil servant U Sagayam, who had earlier waged a war against the sand quarry mafia. In his letter to the government, Sagayam had highlighted the extent of illegal quarrying in the district and had even estimated a ballpark figure of more than Rs 16,000 crore. However, nothing big happened till the letter was leaked to the media in August first week.
Immediately, several teams headed by the present Madurai collector inspected about 175 quarries and recommended a DVAC (Department of Vigilance and Anti Corruption) probe. By the end of August, the DVAC began its investigation and raided quarry operators and government offices. About 30 persons have been arrested and several documents and vehicles seized. Besides the revenue losses, the DVAC is also looking into the collusion of the government officials.
As we have seen in Karnataka, where the Reddy brothers had run an extensive illegal mining mafia network that ruled by muscle, politics and official machinery, the quarry mafia in Madurai also employed strong arm methods under political and official patronage. The Hindu reported how the granite operators forced people to part with their land.
“They used to block the water channels and stop irrigation. Or else dump the granite waste on their land. In some cases, they had threatened the landlords by blasting explosives in the nearby areas,” the report said quoting V Balakrishnan, a superintendent of police, who is now receiving complaints from people who lost their houses and land to the quarry mafia.
The report also quoted a woman who lost her agricultural land to the devious ways of the mafia.: “with no irrigation, I tried to plant coconut saplings. The saplings were damaged in the nights and boulders placed on the land,”
The CPM and the PMK have asked for a CBI probe into the scam, but the state government has said that the DVAC was competent enough to handle the case. The CPM has approached the Madras high court with its demand.
In its petition before the court, the CPM argued that the quarry owners had a free run for 19 years and there hadn’t been any action despite three inspections pointing out illegalities since 2010. Another petition, which also demanded CBI enquiry, said that the people involved were politically and financially influential and hence the national agency should investigate.
Tamil Nadu’s granite scam is yet another example of the mafia nexus of crony capitalists, their political masters and officials. Their networks, the terror and the irreversible damage that they cause to the exchequer, public life and environment are going viral across the country.
Yet again, as in the case of the CAG Vinod Rai, it is an individual effort that brought the scam to light and prompted the government to act. That the officer Sagayam, who wrote the letter, had been transferred 18 times in his career spanning two decades does indicate the fundamental flaw in our system that encourages illegalities and mega scams.
We are indeed fortunate to witness both the wholesale and retail sale of the country by business-mafia networks. Strip it to parts and sell them. The mere scale of the operation will deter the law from catching up if the mafia terror is not good enough to scare it away.