Tamil Nadu health minister, police chief raided by CBI in multi-crore gutka scam

Chennai: Federal investigators raided the head of Tamil Nadu police and the state’s health minister on September 5 over allegations that they received bribes, along with 13 other officials, to allow chewable tobacco products to be sold despite a ban, according to a statement by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

State health minister C Vijaya Baskar and director general of police TK Rajendran were the focus of the raids by the CBI.

In all, raids were carried out across 35 locations in seven cities — including premises belonging to former state minister BV Ramana, former Chennai police commissioner S George and several officials from sales tax, customs and central excise, food safety and drug administration departments. A raid on a sitting director general of police (DGP) is rare, if not unprecedented.

“It was alleged that one private company based in Tamil Nadu was in the business of manufacturing and sale of gutka and other chewable tobacco products since 2011. Subsequently, production and sale of gutka was banned in May 2013. During the period when the ban was in force, the promoters/directors of the said company allegedly paid bribes to regulatory authorities and continued with the business of manufacturing and selling of gutka products illicitly,” CBI spokesman Abhishek Dayal said.

Vijaya Baskar has refused the allegation that he was bribed. “I don’t know about Madhava Rao, the gutka manufacturer,” Bhaskar said in a statement. Rajendran did not respond to requests for a comment. He met chief minister E Palaniswami and discussed the searches.

As the Opposition called for both officials to be sacked, D Jayakumar, the state fisheries minister, said, “This is just a raid based on the direction of the court. We cannot call one as accused just because raids have been carried out. No evidence has been found. It is not essential to take action against the innocent.”

The call from the Opposition was led by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which had moved a petition in court that led to the CBI taking over the case.

“CBI raids conducted in the houses of health minister Vijaya Baskar and DGP TK Rajendran is a shame to Tamil Nadu. Chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami should sack them both immediately. In case the CM fails, governor Banwarilal Purohit should dismiss the minister and DGP,” DMK president MK Stalin said.

Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) founder S Ramadoss echoed the leader of the Opposition’s views. “The CM should safeguard the interests of the people and not that of the minister who is involved in scams,” he said.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) state secretary K Balakrishnan Rajendran’s tenure as DGP had ended last year. “However, on the last day of his tenure, he got an extension just three hours before it came to an end on June 30 last year. Hence it is clear that the TN government wants to save him,” added Balakrishnan.

The petition filed by DMK members alleged that the genesis of the scam lies in the Income Tax raids conducted in July, 2016, on the premises of Madhava Rao, who partly owns MDM Gutkha.

The petitioners told the HC that during searches at the premises of an accountant, the IT department found details of regular payments made to politicians, police and other officials.

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