Chennai: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami suffered a setback on Friday when the Madras High Court ordered a probe by the CBI into the DMK’s complaint of alleged nepotism and corruption in awarding of civil contracts by the Highways Department, a portfolio held by him.
Justice A D Jagadish Chandira’s order comes barely two days after the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti Corruption (DVAC), a state agency, gave the Chief Minister a clean chit on the issue. The DMK’s organising secretary R S Bharathi, who in the 1990s was instrumental in getting corruption cases filed against former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, had moved the court against Palaniswami.
In June this year, Bharathi had filed a complaint with the DVAC alleging that many contracts in the Highways Department headed by Palaniswami for the past seven years, were being given to firms in which his relatives, especially his son’s in-laws had stakes. The DVAC, however, said there was no material to file a FIR against the Chief Minister and argued that the in-laws of Palaniswami’s son could not be treated as “close relatives”.
Besides, the agency had said that the so called relatives were in the business of undertaking civil contracts from the government since 1991 whereas Palaniswami was made a minister the Jayalalithaa cabinet only in 2011 and later in February 2017 took over Chief Minister.
Rejecting the DVAC’s contention, Justice Chandira said he was of the firm view that the inquiry had not been done in a fair manner. The DVAC probe was only a “perfunctory exercise.” He held: “Therefore, the case has to be necessarily transferred to any other independent agency not under the control of the persons in power.”
Consequently the judge directed the DVAC to handover the case materials within one week to the Joint Director, CBI, Chennai. The court said the Joint Director would have to appoint an officer in the rank of Superintendent of Police to conduct a preliminary inquiry within three months and if a cognisable offence was made out then a FIR must be registered.
The judge pointed out that no World Bank official was questioned whereas the Highway projects were funded by it.
“It does not need the wisdom of Solomon to infer that right from the receipt of the complaint and the registration of the preliminary enquiry, the conduct of the respondent (DVAC) had been aimed with a sole objective of closing the case by filing a negative report,” the court concluded.
“When allegations of such serious nature has been made an honest endeavour should have been taken by the persons in power to voluntarily transfer the case to an independent agency to clear the cloud, so that, it would instil confidence in the minds of citizens,” the court said handing over the probe to CBI.
Meanwhile, opposition leaders led by DMK president M K Stalin called for the Chief Minister’s resignation in the wake of the development.