The Madras High Court on Friday ordered CBI probe into allegations of corruption against Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami in awarding highway and road expansion projects. The order, a setback to ruling AIADMK, comes two days after the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC), which reports to the Chief Minister, told the court there were no irregularities in awarding the contracts.
DMK MP and party organising secretary R S Bharathi filed a complaint with DVAC on June 13, accusing Palaniswami, who holds the highways and road portfolio, of granting multi-crore projects to close relatives. Justice A D Jagadish Chandira said the probe should be transferred to an independent agency because any agency under those in power will not conduct a free and fair investigation.
Justice Chandira ordered the government to hand over the case papers and files to CBI within a week and asked the probe agency’s joint director in Chennai to depute an officer of the rank of Superintendent of Police. “If the preliminary enquiry discloses offences of cognizable nature, he (CBI SP) shall register a case and proceed in accordance with law,” the court said.
It said, “This court again makes it clear that this order does not express any opinion in relation to the allegations made in the complaint of the petitioner. This order is passed only in the interest of justice for ensuring fair, reasonable and transparent investigation.”
Among road projects listed in the complaint are a 70-km, four-lane project of Oddanchatran-Dharapuram-Avinashipalayam state highway. It was a project with an initial estimated cost of Rs 713 crore, which was later increased to Rs 1,515 crore.
The complaint alleged that the World Bank-funded project was awarded to a firm owned by private contractor Ramalingam, whose son Chandrakanth Ramalingam is a close relative of CM Palaniswami’s son Mithun Kumar. The project cost wouldn’t have exceeded Rs 200 crore if market norms and the cost increase/inflation scenarios were considered, it alleged.
Another project facing the charges of nepotism is the four-laning of Tirunelveli-Sengottai-Kollam state highway, also funded by World Bank. The petition alleged that project was awarded to “Venkatachalapathy Constructions owned by P Subramaniam, who is father-in-law of Mithun”.
The petition alleged that the original project cost was revised from Rs 407 crore to Rs 720 crore, and was given additional cash grant of Rs 180 crore.
In its submission before the HC, DVAC said it could not find any evidence for violation of World Bank guidelines in allotting highway contracts. Advocate General Vijay Narayan told the court that the contractors were not close relatives of Palaniswami, and that there was nothing wrong in assigning work to them.