A multi crore scam, that can be compared with Steven Soderbergh’s master piece Ocean’s Eleven is happening right under the nose of the prison administration for more than five years. In spite of being flagged through a written complaint, both the Prison Minister Regupathy and the prison administration are sitting over a pile of evidence.
This cute scam happened over a period of five years at the cost of state exchequer, but even the new DMK government is reluctant to step in and take action.
A Government order issued in the year 1990 paved the way for the scam. The transactions between government department are adjustments. However, the adjustment should be done by properly drawing a bill based on voucher, presentation to the concerned Treasury, drawal of payment, etc.
In all government offices across the state, paper envelopes are required as 98% of the correspondences are still on paper. From the British era, to use the prisoners’ services fruitfully, they were made to work and manufacture such envelopes. This practice is still in vogue. The prisoners are trained in some skill that they are interested and made to work in carpentry, cover making, etc. and women are trained to make candles, manufacture of incense sticks, etc. They are paid a 50% of a nominal pay and the remaining fifty percent is split into two. 30% of it is retained by prison administration for their expenses and the balance 20% is dedicated as victim compensation. Sadly, this poetic scheme remains on paper alone and crores of funds under this head is lying dormant say sources.
Over a period of time, due to the non-finance implication, bills were not drawn on time and the arrears for the Prison department from various departments mounted. Though notional, the union government’s Auditor and Comptroller General made remarks against the pendency of huge sums in its report dated 12.12.1988.
Following these remarks, the prison administration wrote to the government to declare the prison department as “Service Department”. This means, prison department should supply the articles manufactured by it to other government departments for free. Free means, the percentage of written records in this regard has been reduced to one tenth of what it was earlier. Over a period of time, the accounting procedure like number of articles manufactured and supplied also took a back seat.
In the year 2016, a low level store keeper named Rajavelu in Madurai prison found an innovative scam. He passed away six months ago.
To manufacture covers, gauze, candles etc. raw materials are required. For covers brown sheets, gum and for gauze thread, bale of gauze clothes are required. Each prison across the state will send its requirement as a proposal based on the demand raised by various other government departments that are in need. The DIG Headquarters is vested with the financial powers to allot funds to the various prisons.
The Madurai Central Prison has been demanding whopping sums towards manufacturing materials when compared with other prisons. Sums ranging from 8 to 15 crores are drawing by Madurai Prison alone according to sources.
This amount should be spent scrupulously and by following all norms. A tender should be floated and a bidder should be chosen transparently. However, one Jafarullah Khan was chosen as the supplier by the Madurai Prison administration.
The funds allotted by headquarters are spent by purchasing raw materials from Jafarullah Khan and he promptly sends the bills and draws payment. Proper entries for the entire goods purchased is made in the Madurai prison at multiple places. The materials so purchased are turned into covers, gauze, etc. using the labour of prisoners. Salary for the prisoners are promptly debited to their account. And the manufactured goods are despatched through a vehicle to multiple government offices once in a month.
So far good. Whispers started doing the rounds in prison that a huge scam is going on in the manufacture and supply of such materials.
P.Pugalenthi, an advocate and human rights activist got into the act. Pugalenthi through his sources ascertained that the records inside the prison are impeccably maintained without room for any doubt.
Pugalenthi got hold of prison records which indicated that lakhs of covers, file pads are supplied to various government offices in 2019 alone. To check about the veracity of these entries, Pugalenthi filed RTI applications to various government offices. The offices include several Magistrate and Sessions Courts.
A few of the offices sent replies and several kept quiet. Being an advocate, Pugalenthi visited the concerned courts and was shocked to see the reality. Not even one percent of the articles that are supposed to be delivered was actually delivered.
To cite a few examples,
As per the Prison Out Gate entry register, On 3rd June 2019, 45 government offices were supplied with covers and office pads.
The first entry : Principal, State Training Institute, Virudhunagar.
Small Cover 50,000
Medium Cover 1,00,000
Big Cover 1,50,000
Total 3 lakh covers.
The Principal, STI, Virudhunagar, in his reply to RTI application vide his letter dated 22.10.2021 informed that he is in receipt of covers as follows :
Small Cover 1000
Medium Cover 1000
Big Cover 500
File Pad 200
As per the prison records, the State Training Institute, Madurai was also supplied with 3 lakh covers. The STI, Madurai in its reply dated 12.10.2021, said their office has not received any of the articles.
The following Courts have received covers from the Madurai prison as per prison records.
1) Judicial Magistrate, Kadaladi 3,00,000
2) CJM, Madurai 3,00,000
3) The District Judge, Madurai. 3,00,000
4) Judicial Magistrate, Madurai 5,000 pads ( no covers)
5) The District Judge Madurai 10,000 pads
6) II Additional District Court for 3,00,000
7) The District Court, Sivagangai 3,00,000
8) The Judicial Magistrate I, FTC, Madurai 3,00,000
9) The Special Judge, MCOP, Madurai 3,00,000
10) Judicial Magistrate, Nilakottai 3,00,000
11) District Munsif Court, Melur 7,500 File Pads
On personal verification, Advocate Pugalenthi found that none of the supplies were made to court. Further during his inquiry, Pugalenthi found that the subordinate courts are suffering due to want for stationery. One of the court staff had told to Pugalenthi that, due to shortage of covers, they are reusing the covers by pasting papers over it.
However, all the crores of funds allotted to Madurai Prison by DIG headquarters are spent without a penny.
So where did all this money went ?
Our investigation into this scam revealed shocking details.
Following whispers about the scam, the DGP of Prisons, sent a team to audit the Madurai prisons. But the audit team whose brief was to inquire the prison authorities alone returned empty handed as the records were maintained without a glitch. However, they got a whiff of the scam. Sources say, the audit team had unofficially reported about the scam to the DGP of Prisons.
By this time, the incumbent Superintendent of Madurai Prison Tmt. Urmila was shifted and a new SP was posted. The new SP Tamilselvan, promptly searched the prison.
To his surprise, he found hundreds of rubber stamps of several government offices including courts. Office seal is mandatory for government letters for authenticity. Without court seal, prison officials will not order any bail order from courts.
Superintendent Tamil Selvan seized hundreds of seals from the office of Madurai Prisons’ administrative section.
He sent a report to this effect also to the DGP of prison.
According to highly placed sources, DIG of Prisons, Headquarters Murugesan is the brain behind this whole scam. He is the fund sanctioning authority. When the demand from Madurai prison for stationery purchase is huge compared with other prisons, he should have raised a red flag and conducted inspection. Further, he should have called for the demand letters from the respective government departments in this regard. But, in spite of the steady increase in the volume of funds demanded by Madurai Prison, he has been sanctioning any fund demanded from Madurai without any question. Further it is also reported that he is doing this without the knowledge of the Head of Department.
On his instructions, Tmt. Urmila, former Madurai Prison Superintendent and all the officials from gate guard to section superintendent are involved in this scam say sources.
Sunil Kumar Singh, for reasons that remain unclear keeps quiet. Another reason for his quietus, is that he has been asked not to take any action by his Minister S.Reghupathy.
Reghupathy holds the portfolio of Law, Courts, Prison and Prevention of Corruption.
Being in charge for Prevention of Corruption, the Directorate of Viglance and Anti-Corruption comes under him.
Interestingly, Reghupathy faces a disproportionate assets case. On 17th August 2002 his house was searched by the officials of DVAC following the registration of a case against him for possession of disproportionate assets to his known sources of income.
A charge sheet in this regard was filed before the Special Court for Prevention of Corruption Act cases under section 13 (2) r/w 13 (1) (e) of the PC Act, 1988. He was discharged by the special judge in 2013 and the same was confirmed by the Madras High Court. The state preferred an appeal and it has been converted into Criminal Appeal against acquittal and pending till date.
Reghupathy has declared it in his affidavit. The SLP has to be followed up and pursued by DVAC officials which comes directly under him. How the counsel for DVAC will be briefed, and whether a senior counsel is engaged is a million dollar question.
Coming back to the prison story, Tmt.Urmila, Supdt. Of Prisons had to be transferred as she has served in Madurai for more than three years.
The most sought after prison in TN by corrupt prison officials is Puzhal at Chennai and Coimbatore as these two houses 90% of VIP prisioners from whom offificials can milk money. As such no posting is made without paying the highest authority – the Minister.
The said Urmila has recently been posted to the second lucrative Coimbatore prison after she paid Rs.15 lakhs to the Minister according to prison sources.
Further, in spite of the DGP of Prisons alerting the Minister – Reghupathy – so far no action has been taken against any of the officials involved. Except Urmila none have even been transferred. The gossip in the corridors of Prison is that DIG Hqrs Murugesan had paid a sum of one crore to save himself from any action and to suppress the scam. He has collected this sum from all those involved in this scam add sources.
Stalin, who is busy in photo shoots, is paying little attention to the humongous corruption of his family and in his cabinet, which will haunt him just ahead of lok sabha polls.
Stain, who appears to be earnest and sincere to provide good governance and who is surrounded by earnest and efficient set of officers (little course correction required), needs to develop a 360 degree view of his governance. If Stalin considers him as Jayalalitha, he is in for a big shock.
There can be just one Jayalalitha. A senior leader poignantly put it. “This is a DMK government run by Jayalalitha.”
PS : A PIL seeking a probe into this has been filed and it’s to be heard shortly.
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