Chennai: Corruption is back on the agenda as Tamil Nadu heads into what is likely to be a hotly contested Assembly election this year and ironically, the Congress party has kicked off the debate in the state. Tamil Nadu’s state Congress president EVKS Elangovan today released a booklet titled Oozhal Pattiyal (Corruption list or Scam list in Tamil).
"This is the same list that I had submitted to the Tamil Nadu governor in May 2015," said Elangovan at the Congress party office in Chennai. "It has been six months and no action has been taken. I have decided to give this to the people and let them decide," he said.
The booklet contains a list of 25 “scams” allegedly perpetrated by ministers and functionaries of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government. While the listed issues themselves have been reported widely in the state, what is conspicuous by its absence is any response from the ruling party to these allegations.
Here are the top 10 “scams” listed in the booklet.
1• Engineer S Muthukumarasamy’s suicide: In February 2015, an engineer belonging to the agriculture department of the state government, S Muthukumarasamy committed suicide by jumping in front of a train at Thatchanallur in Tirunelveli district. Investigations revealed that that the engineer was driven to suicide by the harassment of Agriculture Minister Agri Krishnamurthy. Following a public furor, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa sacked minister Krishnamurthy and subsequently he was arrested. The state Crime Branch - Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID) is currently investigating the case.
2• Corruption in power deals: The Comptroller Auditor General (CAG) as well as power regulator Tamil Nadu Electricity Regulatory Commission had come down hard on the state power utility, TANGEDCO (Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation), for a number of issues. Among these are purchase of costly power from private companies at a premium, non-maintenance of existing power generation plants, stalling and delay in implementing power projects like Udangudi and Ennore and non-evacuation of cheap wind power. A deal for setting up a solar power project by the Adani Group too has come under the scanner with allegations of corruption being flung at the government. “2,950 million units of power is being purchased from private power producers at the rate of Rs 12.50 per unit annually. The electricity board is spending Rs 5,212 crores a year on this…. Every year the electricity board is running up losses of Rs 4,293 crores as a result of purchasing power from private producers. As a result TANGEDCO’s debts have mounted to Rs 80,000 crores,” states the booklet. In September last year, the state Electricity Minister Natham Viswanathan denied all charges in the Assembly. No enquiry, probe or reaction of any kind has been forthcoming.
3• Aavin Milk Adulteration Scam: In September 2014 the Aavin milk scam hit the headlines in the state. Adulterated milk was found to be sold under the state government-owned popular ‘Aavin’ brand. Public outcry led to police investigations which then resulted in the arrest of influential AIADMK leaders who were found to have taken over the contracts to transport Aavin Milk from the plant to various areas. En route, this milk was being adulterated in order to gain profit. In December 2014, the Madras High Court observed that “Without the active connivance of people in high places, this could never have happened”, while ordering the CB-CID to expand the scope of investigations to find out the real culprits. The case is pending. No word has been spoken on the issue by the AIADMK.
4• Laptops scam: Allegations of a Rs 3,900 crore scam in procurement of 30 lakh laptops again did not receive any response from the state government or the chief minister. Questions were raised about the number of laptops actually bought and details of who these laptops were distributed to. The state government had no answers, especially since this was part of Jayalalithaa’s pet schemes announced in the run-up to 2011.
5• State Highways scam: The Congress’ booklet alleges that a Rs 1,000 crore loss has been sustained by the state highways department due to corruption in contracts for maintenance of these roads. The key allegation against the Jaya government is that the maintenance of over 57,000 km of state roads were given to a private company instead of allowing the existing maintenance personnel to look after them. Once again, there has been no response from the state government on this issue.
6• TASMAC scam: Allegations of irregularities abound in TASMAC (Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation), the state-owned liquor retailing monopoly. From procurement of liquor to pushing sales of specific brands, TASMAC is probably one of the murkiest departments of the state government which begs for a thorough clean-up. Allegations are rife that TASMAC favours brands sold by Midas Distilleries, a company owned by the family of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s close friend and confidante Sasikala. No answers are forthcoming on this issue from either TASMAC or from the chief minister.
7• Transport Department scam: Charges of bribes being demanded for appointments of 7,500 bus drivers as well as for transfers and postings within the state Transport Department should have shaken up the government and resulted in at least a probe. Transport Minister Senthil Balaji was, however, relieved of his post only when he went overboard with self promotions on television channels and not for charges of actively encouraging corruption in his department.
8• Real estate scam: Corruption in the real estate and construction sector is rife in the AIADMK regime, alleges the booklet released by the Congress party. Bribes are demanded for all permissions to construct a new building or for any sale of land. “For an ordinary building, the bribe rates are as follows,” states the booklet. “Minister gets Rs 25,000 per kitchen; municipal corporation official gets Rs 10,000; Ward Councillor gets Rs 25,000; rate for getting power connection is Rs 10,000 and rate for getting Metrowater connection is Rs 5,000,” it states. Despite the Moulivakkam building collapse episode in June 2014, the state government is yet to pull up officials responsible for flouting norms for building permissions or to initiate any enquiry into rampant corruption in departments like the CMDA (Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority) and the DTCP (Directorate of Town and City Planning).
9• Granite scam: In 2012, the granite scam in Madurai came to light when then Collector U Sagayam wrote to the state government asking for a probe into the illegal mining of granite by private companies in Madurai and Melur. While Sagayam was transferred out, his successor Anshul Mishra cracked open the scam, shutting down operations of a number of powerful mining mafia in the area. Subsequently the state government has been accused of going slow on the probe and of covering up many details. The Madras High Court recently appointed Sagayam as Legal Commissioner to look into the status of the probe. Sagayam’s report has been submitted and pegs losses to exchequer at Rs 1.1 lakh crores due to illegal mining. This case is pending in court.
10• Medical college admission scam: Pay a fat bribe and get a medical seat – this may not be confined to Tamil Nadu’s colleges or the AIADMK regime alone. But setting up a medical college in Tamil Nadu is alleged to be very expensive indeed – the allegation against the AIADMK government is that a huge bribe of Rs 50 lakh is demanded for setting up of a medical college in the state. “Transfers of doctors in government hospitals is done for a price of Rs 5 lakh,” alleges the booklet released by the Congress. The silence continues on these charges within the corridors of Fort St George.
As the state heads into polls, opposition parties are raking up the issue of corruption in a big way. “Corruption is something that affects people directly,” explained KS Radhakrishnan, DMK spokesperson. “Everyone knows there is corruption. It is a great social evil and many governments have fallen due to corruption. Naturally people will take it as an issue, it cannot be ignored,” he said.
The DMK itself is battling a number of corruption cases against its party leaders, including the mother of all scams – the 2G scam. DMK chief Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi and his wife Dayalu Ammal themselves are embroiled in the Kalaignar TV case. The Congress is mired in a number of corruption allegations nationally including 2G and the Commonwealth Games scam among others. The Pattali Makkal Katchi’s (PMK) scion and chief ministerial hopeful Anbumani Ramadoss too faces corruption charges in a CBI case.
To a query on what the locus standi of either the Congress or the DMK is to speak out on corruption, the DMK said that the accused party members were facing charges legally. “We in the DMK believe corruption should not be there,” said Radhakrishnan of the DMK. “We are facing all charges following due process of law. Jayalalithaa was convicted and later acquitted in a judgement which was widely criticised for arithmetic and other errors. You cannot compare the two parties,” he said.
Congress state president Elangovan insisted that the national party too stood against corruption. “Whenever there is a charge of corruption against any member of the Congress party, the party immediately takes action,” said Elangovan. “Even in the case of Ajit Jogi’s son, when there is a charge, we remove the person from the party so that a probe may be conducted,” he said.
Critics of Jayalalithaa though say that no matter what charges of corruption are flung and no matter the available proof of illegality, transparency and accountability had taken a severe beating in Jayalalithaa’s regime.
“Accountability is vested with the sovereignty of the people in a democracy,” said Radhakrishnan of the DMK. “People are watching. Government is for the people, by the people, of the people. This government is only for the party, by the party and of the party.”
A senior leader of the AIADMK who spoke to Firstpost on condition of anonymity declined to respond to the specific charges of corruption in the booklet released by the Congress party on Thursday. “These are all ploys to discredit the good work done by our Amma,” he said. “Wherever there has been an issue, Amma has promptly taken action and ensured that the law takes its course. This is the most clean government in Tamil Nadu,” he said.