New Delhi: Tamil Nadu’s top police official and health minister’s premises were among 40 places raided by the CBI on Wednesday in connection with alleged sale of gutka in the state even after it was banned in 2013 by the then J. Jayalalithaa government.
This is perhaps for the first time that the the CBI raided a serving police chief of a state. For Tamil Nadu health minister C. Vijayabaskar, it was a double whammy as he is already under the scanner of the inco-me-tax department, which raided his premises last year.
It was an early morning knock at the residence of director general of police (DGP) T.K. Rajend-ran, a 1984-batch IPS officer, when the CBI team presented the search warrant issu-ed by the a special court.
In a coordinated operation which star-ted at 7 am, CBI teams swooped down on 35 locations in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Karnataka, Bengaluru and Andhra Pradesh. As the news about the raids spread, clamour for the dismissal of the health minister and the police chief started doing the rounds. The Opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the CPI(M) sought their resignations.
The case pertains to illegal sale of gutka, a concoction of tobacco and pan masala which was banned in Tamil Nadu in 2013, by Jayam Industries.
On Wednesday, the CBI said, “The places searched were residential premises of the promoters/directors of the company and other public servants including officials of sales tax department, customs and central excise, food safety and drug administration department and police officials.”
Mr Rajendran was made the DGP in 2016 after Ashok Kumar opted out for a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS). Officials claimed that Mr Kumar, a 1982-batch
IPS officer, was forced to seek VRS as he had recommended for a CBI probe into the gutka scam. DMK president M.K. Stalin, in a statement, said, “The searches have brought shame on the state... Mr Vijayabaskar continuing in the Cabinet and Mr Rajendran as the head of the police department will turn out to be a blot against people’s rule and for the force known for its honesty.”
CPI(M) state secretary K. Balakrishnan also demanded that both should be removed from their posts and made to face the probe.
“What respect will people have on police and the government after these raids? This is a very bad situation,” he said.
PMK founder S. Ramadoss termed the CBI searches as “appropriate” in order to nail those involved in the scam and asked why the government was “hesitant” to show the minister the door.
The promoter-directors of Jayam Industries — A.V. Madhav Rao, Uma Shankar Gupta and Srinivas Rao — continued selling MDM brand gutka in the state even after the ban, allegedly by influencing officials, politicians and regulatory authorities, the agency officials said.
Jayam Industries had changed its name to Annamalai Industries to continue the sale. The scam came to light on July 8, 2017, when income-tax sleuths raided the godown, offices and residences of the company in Tamil Nadu, which had been facing charges of tax evasion to the tune of `250 crore.
The CBI, which started the search operation nearly three months after registering an FIR in May on the instruction of the Madras high court, also raided former Chennai police commissioner S. George, 2009-batch IRS officer in Central Excise R. Gulzar Begum, and former AIDMK MLA from Tiruvallur constituency B.V. Ramanaa.
During the raids, the income tax department had seized a diary containing names of those who had been allegedly paid by the gutka manufacturers. The case was sent to the CBI by the high court in April on the plea of a DMK leader.
It was alleged by the petitioner in the high court while demanding a CBI probe that monthly payments worth over Rs 14 lakh were made to the health minister while payments in lakhs of rupees were made to officials of central excise, food safety and sales tax department, senior police officials and politicians among others.
The high court order handing over the prove to the CBI was challenged in the Supreme Court by a Tamil Nadu health official but the apex court sided with the high court decision.