The I-T raids come within days of AIADMK making it clear that while it does not oppose simultaneous elections, it does not favour Tamil Nadu going into elections in April 2019
Last week, BJP president Amit Shah during his day-long visit to Chennai called Tamil Nadu one of the most corrupt states in India. Most people understood it as an oblique reference to the corruption taking place under the AIADMK regime's nose. The proof of the pudding came in the form of Income Tax raids on Monday morning at the premises of an influential contractor who with his position in different construction companies, has bagged several highway projects in the last couple of years.
Why this is significant is because the Highways department is looked after by the chief minister, Edappadi Palaniswami. In fact, even before he became CM, he held the PWD ministry under J Jayalalithaa. Even more damning is the fact that if you connect the dots, they lead directly to the CM.
The raids took place at 30 locations, most of them in Chennai, Madurai and Aruppukottai of the SPK group that is owned by Nagarajan Seyyadurai. This person incidentally is also a 33 per cent shareholder in Sri Balaji Tollways Private Limited where the two other partners are J Sekhar (whose premises were raided in 2017 and is known to be extremely close to several AIADMK leaders) and Subramaniam Palaniswami. The last mentioned is the father-in-law of CM Palaniswami's son Mithun Kumar.
"Among several contracts, Balaji Tollways bagged the Rs 220 crore contract to convert the stretch of the Madurai Ring Road from Meenakshi Mission hospital to Kappalur, a distance of 27 km, from two-lane to four-lane in March 2017. This will be on BOT basis for a period of 20 years," points out Jayaram Venkatesan of Arappor Iyakam, an anti-corruption NGO in Tamil Nadu.
In fact, only last month the DMK had alleged that most of the highway contracts were going to companies that were owned by Palaniswami's relatives. The opposition party lodged a complaint with the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption, specifically mentioning five highway projects.
In its complaint, the DMK claimed that the SPK group that has been raided now, got the Rs 2000 crore contract for the maintenance of all state highways in Virudhunagar, Krishnagiri, Thiruvallur and Ramanathapuram districts. It also bagged the contract to convert the Vandalur-Walajabad road into a six-lane highway, a World Bank assisted project.
It is not yet confirmed if the evidence provided by the DMK too will be looked at by the central agencies. The most damning allegation in that complaint to the DVAC concerns the four laning of the Oddanchatram-Dharapuram-Avinashipalayam on State Highway number 37 in western Tamil Nadu. This World Bank project, it is alleged, was estimated originally to cost Rs 713 crore but was later revised to Rs 1515 crore. It was awarded to one Ramalingam & Co.
"One Chandrakanth Ramalingam is a director in this firm. Edappadi Palaniswami's son Mithun Kumar is married to Divya, who has a sister by the name Saranya. Chandrakanth Ramalingam is the brother of Saranya's husband. In other words, EPS has awarded a Rs 1515 crore worth contract to a firm owned by his son's brother-in-law,'' wrote RS Bharathi, DMK MP in the complaint.
According to sources, the IT department is also looking at the possibility of shell companies into which money would have been diverted.
The corridors of powers are aflutter at what these Income tax raids could mean for the politics of Tamil Nadu. After all, the same strategy was employed in the run-up to the RK Nagar byelection in 2017, when the Health minister C Vijaybasker was raided amidst talk of cash distribution to buy votes.
These raids now come within days of the AIADMK making it clear that while it does not oppose simultaneous elections, it is not in favour of Tamil Nadu going to polls for the state assembly in April 2019, curtailing the term of the present House. Political circles were surprised at the AIADMK adopting a position at variance from the BJP. At the same time, Rajinikanth has spoken in favour of one nation, one poll. Add to that the Madras High court verdict on the disqualification of 18 MLAs belonging to the TTV Dhinakaran camp which is expected by mid-August and if it quashes the Speaker's decision, could change the dynamics of the Tamil Nadu government.
These moves, both political and administrative, only lead to suspicion that the stage is being set for a political upheaval. Because if the raids are taken to their logical conclusion, the CM may have to explain why most plum contracts have gone to the same set of relatives.
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Last Updated 16, Jul 2018, 8:35 PM