THE RESIDENTIAL premises of Tamil Nadu Health Minister C Vijayabaskar, Director General of Police T K Rajendran, former Chennai Police Commissioner S George and former state minister B V Ramana were among the 35 locations raided by the CBI on Wednesday in connection with the alleged gutkha scam.
Top ministers, police officers and revenue officials are alleged to have taken bribes to allow the manufacture and sale of gutkha, which was banned in the state in 2013.
“The simultaneous searches being conducted at 35 locations began at 7 am and will continue till late in the evening. Apart from ministers and police officers, the premises of some Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officers, central excise officers and sales tax officers are also being searched. Voluminous documents have been seized from all these places and will be examined in due course,” said a CBI official.
This is possibly the first time that a serving DGP has been raided by the CBI.
Several top officials of the central excise department, food safety department and health department were among those raided across Chennai, Tiruvallur, Tuticorin, Guntur (Andhra Pradesh), Mumbai and Bengaluru.
CBI sources said that among those searched were ACP M Manan and Inspector Sampath Kumar of the state police; 1992-batch IRS officer R Gulzar Begum, Superintendents N K Pandian and Sheshadry of the central excise department; Deputy Commissioner Kurinjiselvam, Assistant Commissioner Paneerselvam and Sales Tax Officer Ganesan of the sales tax department; and Dr Senthil Murugan, Dr Laxmi Narayan and E Sivakumar, food safety officer, of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
Others raided included the promoters of Jayam Industries (now known as Annamalai Industries) — A V Madhavrao, Srinivas Rao and Uma Shankar Gupta. According to CBI, Jayam Industries was engaged in the manufacture of paan masala and gutkha since 2011. When the state government banned gutkha in 2013, Jayam Industries allegedly assumed a new name and kept operating by bribing officials.
“During the ban, the promoters and directors of Jayam Industries paid bribes to regulatory authorities and continued their business. They allegedly paid bribes to officials of the sales tax department, customs and central excise, FSSAI and jurisdiction police officials,” CBI spokesperson Abhishek Dayal said.
The scam came to light on July 8, 2017, when Income-Tax sleuths raided the godown, offices and residences of Jayam Industries, which had been facing charges of tax evasion to the tune of Rs 250 crore. During the raids, the tax department seized a diary containing the names of those who were allegedly paid off by the gutkha manufacturers.
The CBI took over the probe on the orders of the Madras High Court in May this year, following a plea filed by a DMK leader. “The clandestine gutkha business is a crime against society, which is needed to be curbed,” the court had said. “We, therefore, deem it appropriate to direct the CBI to investigate the illegal manufacture, import, supply, distribution and sale of gutkha and other forms of chewable tobacco… detect and take action against those involved in the offence… in connivance with public/ government servants,” it said.
The order was challenged in the Supreme Court by a Tamil Nadu health official, but the apex court sided with the Madras High Court’s order and asked the agency to register a case. The agency registered an FIR against unidentified officials of the Tamil Nadu government, central excise department and food safety department in May.