Hours after the CBI conducted raids at his home and properties across the state, Tamil Nadu Health Minister Vijayabaskar has hit out at 'political enemies' for orchestrating a scandal.
In a statement to the media, the Minister said, "Amma's government banned gutkha and paan masala on May 23, 2013. Since then the government has been trying to implement the ban in the most stringent ways. I have not met Madhav Rao, related to gutkha and paan masala directly or indirectly. People are trying to defame me and trying to get me out of politics due to enmity by filing false cases against me."
Denying the accusations levelled against him, the Minister said, "Even now I am telling, I am not guilty and hence I am not scared. I humbly assure you all that I will face this accusation legally and politically and will overcome it."
Stating that he was cooperating with the authorities, he added, "In the above case based on a complaint filed by DMK, the Madras HC transferred it to CBI. As a law abiding citizen, I am ready to cooperate to lead the case to its natural conclusion."
"As a testimony to the Tamil saying 'only the fruit bearing trees get hit by stones', it is very common for a person like me, who has worked for the betterment of our state by making the state Health Dept one of the best in the country, to be accused of such things by political enemies. Just because one is accused, he does not become a criminal. Whenever similar setbacks happened in my political life, I have always overcome those and continued to thrive in politics and serve the people," he said.
On Wednesday, the CBI also conducted raids at the properties of TN Director General of Police TK Rajendran, ex-DGP S George, and former Milk and Dairy Development Minister BV Ramanaa, among others.
In April last year, Vijayabaskar’s residence in Chennai and several other properties belonging to him and his relatives across Tamil Nadu were raided by the Income Tax Department. With the raids coming ahead of the RK Nagar bye-elections, which were originally scheduled for April last year, the ruling AIADMK had called it political vendetta.
In July 8, 2017, raids were conducted at the godown, offices and residences of a pan masala and gutkha manufacturer in Tamil Nadu, who was facing charges of evading tax to the tune of Rs 250 crore. The manufacture, storage and sale of the carcinogenic chewable forms of tobacco, including gutkha and pan masala had been banned by the state government in 2013.
However, IT officials later told TNM that the raids on Vijayabaskar were in connection with the gutkha scam and his alleged links with mining baron Sekhar Reddy.
A source in the IT Department had told TNM that the Health Minister’s name figures in a diary seized by sleuths during raids on a gutkha manufacturer.
“Since he was the Health Minister, they had to keep him in good books. While the exact amount he received on a yearly basis is not certain, it can be said with confidence that he was being paid for his cooperation for this unlawful activity," the IT official had told TNM last year.