The Madras High Court on Friday picked a senior officer of the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption to go into charges that Local Administration Minister S. P. Velumani had awarded as many as 349 civil contracts worth several crores of rupees between 2014 and 2018 to firms run by his benamis.
The Madurai bench of the high court appointed Superintendent of Police R. Ponni, now serving in the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC), to probe corruption charges against Velumani.
Justices M. Sathyanarayanan and N. Seshasayee ordered that a report on the progress made by the investigating officer should be filed before the court in a sealed cover by Director of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Vijay Kumar on November 1. They also gave a “final opportunity” to the Minister to file his counter-affidavit before the next hearing on the issue.
The interim order was passed on petitions filed by R.S. Bharathi, Organising Secretary of the DMK, and Arappor Iyakkam, a non-governmental organisation represented by its managing trustee Jayaram Venkatesan, who had accused the Minister of having indulged in corrupt practices in the award of contracts through municipal corporations.
Taking serious note of the allegations, the judges had on January 4 ordered notices to the government, DVAC, the Minister as well as the municipal corporations of Chennai and Coimbatore. On January 29, the government informed the court that it had accorded sanction for a preliminary inquiry by the DVAC and that the probe would begin shortly.
When the matter got listed on Friday after a gap of over eight months, Deputy Superintendent of Police S. Shankar filed a note that the preliminary inquiry was on. The judges came down on the investigating officer for taking so long to find out whether a prima facie case was made out.
Advocate General Vijay Narayan said probe was taking time because investigators had to sift through voluminous of records with the assistance of experts. He said the DSP had so far examined 171 witnesses, collected 431 documents and verified 41 files related to 349 contracts.
The investigation revolved around 76 contracts awarded by the Greater Chennai Corporation, 244 by the Coimbatore Corporation, four by Tiruppur, two by Salem, one by Vellore and 22 by the Public Works Department to KCP Engineers Private Limited, Constronics India Private Limited, Aalayam Foundation, Varadhan Infrastructure, Invicta Meditek and five others.
It was the case of the complainants that almost all civil contracts were awarded to select firms and that those firms had submitted their online bids from the same IP address.
When the judges wanted to know whether the DSP had made any efforts to verify the IP address provided by the complainant, there was no positive answer from him. “It implies that even verification of the IP address has not been done” in the last eight months, the judges observed in their interim order, and decided to hand over the preliminary inquiry to an officer of the rank of Superintendent of Police so that she could continue the probe and unravel the truth.
They also pulled up the Minister for not having filed a counter-affidavit so far, though the rules require every respondent in writ proceedings to file his/her counter-affidavit within three months from the date of receipt of court notice. They also recalled that a notice issued to the Minister was initially returned. It was only after the court warned of ordering issuance of a notice to the Minister through newspapers that he made an appearance through his counsel K. Raja Srinivas.
But he had not filed a counter-affidavit in the last eight months, they said, and granted him a final opportunity to do so by the next hearing on Nov 1.