The clock has come a full circle in the Gutkha scam. It was a long and ardent battle which was undertaken by several people to ensure that justice is done in the Gutkha scam, in which several senior police officers and other state government / central government officials and politicians are involved.
I still remember afresh, the phone call that I received on an early morning when I was sipping my coffee in Bengaluru where I had gone on a personal visit. One of my highly placed source called me and said had some document on the Gutkha scam. I asked her to send the document in whatsapp as I was not in Chennai. But she insisted that she would handover the document only in person. I immediately caught the available transport and reached Chennai. The meeting was scheduled for the next day.
I had been following the Gutkha story, ever since the Times of India published a page one story. The story said, the then Chennai Police Commissioner George had written to the TN Home Secretary seeking a probe into collection of mamools from an illegal gutkha manufacturer by several police officials. I had worked under Mr.George and I had been closely following him and his reputation was at rock bottom even in the nineties. I smelt a rat and figured that the ToI story could be a plant.
At this time the source called me and handed over a copy of the letter written by George to the Home Secretary. In the letter George had stated that officers at the level of Assistant Commissioners and below had been receiving illegal gratification from the gutkha manufacturer and had sought a probe by the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption.
I swung into action and started digging deep. I got into touch with a few officers against whom George had recommended for a probe and they had a detailed story to tell.
In 2014, the Chennai Zone of CBI received an anonymous petition which contained allegations against certain central excise officials. The petition stated that there was an illegal gutkha godown functioning in the Red Hills area of Chennai suburbs and that the Central Excise officials have filed to collect excise duty from the manufacturer after receiving bribe. The anonymous petition was entrusted to an Inspector and he visited the illegal godown and found out that a huge scam involving several crores was in full swing. He suggested to his seniors to, order a Preliminary Enquiry as central government officials were involved. But, the then Joint Director, Ashok Kumar, chose to refer the issue to the then Commissioner of Police for appropriate action. The then Commissioner of Police was none other than accused number one T.K.Rajendran.
My curiosity increased after some disturbing developments. Ashok Kumar, IPS, an officer known for his integrity, was asked to resign on the midnight of 7th September 2016. Su.Arunachalam, IPS., who was then the Additional Commissioner of Police Crime was transferred and shunted out to Tirunelveli Transport Corporation.
Both Arunachalam and Ashok Kumar are known by their fine reputation. The transfer of these officers created lot of whispers.
The background of these transfers are quite intersting. Balakrishnan IRS, Director General of Income Tax (Investigations), Chennai, sent a detailed report, annexing the statement of the Gutkha Godown Manager, Madhava Rao, seizure details and extracts of the account books. In the secret note, Balakrishnan meticulously narrated the payments made to several senior officials and politicians. The said note was sent to the then Chief Secretary Ram Mohana Rao. Sources add that, Thiru.Balakrishnan also met the Chief Secretary in person and apprised him of the gravity of the scam.
Ram Mohana Rao, a crook of the first order, removed the IT letter from the records and handed it over to Jayalalitha’s second in command VK.Sasikala. Thiru.Balakrishnan also sent the secret note to Thiru.Ashok Kumar, DGP for necessary action at his end.
In the meanwhile, TK.Rajendran, then Commissioner of Police, directed his Additional CoP, Arunachalam IPS to use his sources and get a copy of the secret IT note. Arunachalam had a long stint in CBI and the trap and arrest of Sallong Yaden, IRS, Joint Commissioner of Income Tax and Andasu Ravindra IRS, Additional Commissioner of I.T. were his operations. But, Arunachalam was not able to get hold of a copy of the secret I.T. note on Gutkha which he reported to TK.Rajendran.
In the meanwhile, DGP Ashok Kumar ordered a discreet enquiry on the contents of the I.T. note on gutkha and sent a report to Jayalalitha, recommending a probe by Crime Branch CID. In the note Ashok Kumar had cautioned Jayalalitha that the scam is too deep and failure to act by the state would lead to serious consequences. Since Jayalalitha’s health was deteriorating due to various ailments, it was the booty queen Sasikala who was running the administration. Sources say, when Sasikala sought an explanation from Health Minister Vijaya Bhaskar, he lied through his teeth that both Arunachalam and Ashok Kumar are DMK loyalists and they are trying to blow up the Gutkha scam to bring disrepute to ‘Amma’s’ government on the instructions of M.K.Stalin. The result, midnight transfer of both. Sasikala’s dominance and decision taken by her in this regard were subsequently proved when the IT department found the secret Income Tax note on Gutkha in Sasikala’s room in January 2018.
Based on the inputs I had collected, Savukkubroke the story first in savukku on 4 January 2017. The story was a rage among IPS officers and the story link was shared among senior police officers.
During the searches, the Income Tax department seized an important accounting ledger from the gutkha manufacturer. The accounting ledger contained payments made to several officers of central government, state government and senior IPS officers apart from the then Health Minister. Since a document without oral corroboration doesn’t have any evidentiary value, the IT sleuths, recorded the statement of the godown incharge, one Madhava Rao, who was handling the entire operations.
Madhava Rao sung like a cuckoo and gave detailed explanation about the payments, which was recorded by IT officials. It is pertinent to note that unlike the statements given to a police officers, statements given before an IT officer is admissible in court.
After the publication of story in savukku and the gossips among officers, any shrewd journalist should have smelt a story and dug deep. But, unfortunately only two journalists found the lead and pursued it doggedly. Vijayakumar of The Hindu, and Shabbir Ahmed of Times Now broke the story. The secret IT note containing payments made to senior IPS officers were flashed in the first page of Hindu and in the screens of Times Now.
While the scam was rocking the state, the incumbent DGP T.K.Rajendran attained superannuation on 30 June 2017 and there was speculation about who would succeed him. Edappadi Palanisamy, after throwing all norms and public criticism to wind, extended the tenure of TK.Rajendran by two years. Orders were issued to this effect in the midnight of 30th June 2017.
All hell broke loose. Opposition parties created pandemonium in TN assembly and demanded a probe. In the meanwhile, based on the Hindu story, a PIL was filed in the Madurai Bench of the Madras HC, seeking a CBI probe and also challenging extension given to TK.Rajendran.
A Bench led by Justice KK.Sasidaran, strangely found that there is no necessity for a CBI probe and entrusted the investigation to the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption, an organisation headed by an Addl. DGP. It was surprising that it did not dawn upon Justice Sasidharan, that how an ADGP could handle a probe against DGP and Head of Police force and investigate impartially.
The DVAC commenced investigations and the officers in DVAC very well knew that this probe may any time go to CBI and were cautious with records and every piece of investigation was done meticulously. Sources say, the case diary in this investigation was up todate without any lacunae. However, TK.Rajendran being the Head of Police Force continued to closely poke with the investigaiton and was made privy to every movement, add sources. In spite of this pressure, DVAC officials did a fair job. However, TK.Rajendran was succesful in preventing the DVAC from uploading the FIR in gutkha scam in the internet. Even now, all the DVAC FIR’s are available online, except GUTKHA scam.
At this juncture, even after the petition for CBI probe was dismissed in the Madurai Bench of the Madras HC, DMK moved the HC, seeking a CBI probe based on the hazardous effect of gutkha products, and other connected facts. While the CJ continued to pass remarks after remarks during every hearing about the lackadaisical attitude of the state, the state continued to defend the indefensible. At one point of time, TN’s advocate general Vijay Narayan, a fine advocate, went to the extend of telling a blatant lie in court that DVAC had jurisdiction to probe corrupt central government public servants and several such cases were investigated in the past.
Today, a Bench headed by Chief Justice, delivered a verdict transferring the probe in Gutkha scam to the Central Bureau of Investigation.
A senior journalist, who has been closely following the gutkha scam right since its inception, summed up the entire saga thus : “The Madras High Court order is a slap on the face of EPS Government which was trying to shield the corrupt. After the scam was exposed by the Hindu and Times Now there was massive pressure on the TN govt but EPS had decided to brazen it out and the present DGP TK Rajendran got an extension.
The Gutkha scam was nothing but a crime that was committed in a most greedy manner. The high ranking officials including those whose job was to enforce the ban were so greedy that they recieved money from the Gutkha Mafia to facilitate the sale of banned Gutkha products.
Their greed for money had blinded their judgement and they were recieving illegal gratification from those who are instrumental in spreading cancer in the society. Despite the media naming and shaming them these officials did show no remorse or shame but they tried every dirty trick to scuttle the probe.
The DVAC which is a toothless tiger was trying to cover-up the scam more than investigating it. They had no intention of bringing these culprits to justice and ensure strict action against them. The Madras High court order transferring the case to the CBI is an unprecedented move. Never before an officer who is heading the police force has been accused of accepting bribe and never before a health Minister of a state was caught being on the list of Gutkha Mafia.
In this case they have been caught red handed and hope the CBI does justice by acting independently and bringing these culprits to book.”
It would be apt to quote the operative portion of the order of Madras HC, while winding up this article.
“The underground gutkha business in the state is crime against society which needs to be curbed.
This order (transfer of probe to CBI) in our view is not only imperative to stop the menace of surreptitious sale of gutkha and chewable forms of tobacco which pose a health hazard to people in general and in particular the youth and to punish the guilty, but also to instil faith of the people in the fairness and impartiality of the investigation. We see no reason for the state to view the entrustment of investigation to CBI as an affront to the efficiency or efficacy of its own investigation and we make it absolutely clear that this direction is not to be construed as any definite finding of this court of the complicity of any constitutional authority or any of the specific official of the state government”.
Madras HC has shown that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel. Now it is for the CBI to take this probe further, and prove that it is indeed the premier investigating agency of the state.