Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami finds himself in the middle of what could possibly be the next big corruption scandal in the state.
The main opposition party in the state, DMK, has lodged a complaint with the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption alleging corruption in the allocation of five highways project contracts to various firms owned by relatives of the Chief Minister.
Firstly, the DMK alleges that the four laning of the Oddanchatram- Dharapuram- Avinashipalayam on SH37 was originally estimated to be Rs 713.34 crores and was later revised to Rs 1515 crores. The World Bank funded project would reportedly cost no more than Rs 200 crores according to market norms, after accounting for inflation. However, the contract was awarded to Ramalingam & Co, a firm allegedly owned by a relative of the Chief Minister alleges the complaint.
The complaint reads, “One Mr. Chandrakanth Ramalingam, son of Mr.Ramalingam is one of the Directors in this firm, apart from his father and sisters. Edappadi Palanisamy’s son Mithun Kumar is married to one Divya. Divya has a sister by name Saranya. Saranya’s husband’s brother is the said Chandrakanth Ramalingam. In other words, Edappadi Palanisamy, being CM & Minister for Highways has awarded a contract worth 1515 crores to a firm owned by his son Mithun’s brother-in-law.”
Similar allegations are made on the four laning of the Tirunelveli-Sengottai-Kollam highway on SH 39. The original cost of the project was estimated at Rs 407.6 crore and later revised to Rs 720 crores alleges DMK. However, market norms dictate the project cost at Rs 130 crores, including profits to the contractor. The contract for the project has been awarded to Venkatachalapathy Constructions, a firm the DMK alleges is owned by P Subramaniam, Mithun’s father-in-law.
Both projects have reportedly been assisted by the World Bank.
Third, with the regard to the four laning of Madurai Ring Road, the DMK alleges that the Rs 200 crore contract was awarded to Sri Balaji Toll Ways Private Limited.
“P.Subramaniam, (in-law of Edappadi Palanisamy), P.Nagarajan (benami of Palanisamy) and J.Sekar @ Sekar Reddy are the Directors of this firm. Subsequently after this tender was awarded, through G.O. Ms No. 82, Highways and Minor Ports (HS.1) Department, dated 16.05.2018, an additional 18.57 crores was sanctioned for this project,” the complaint reads.
The DMK alleges that the fourth project too, assisted by the World Bank, has been awarded to SPK & Company Expressway owned by S Nagarajan , allegedly a benami of the Chief Minister. This is with regard to the six laning of the Vandalur-Walajabad road.
In its final allegation, the DMK states the Rs 2000 crores contract for the maintenance of of all State Highways in Ramanathapuram, Thiruvallur, Krishnagiri and Virudhunagar districts has been awarded to the same SPK & Company Expressway. The DMK alleges that the project was later sub-contracted to the firm owned by Mithun’s father-in-law.
Palaniswami served as the Minister for Public Works, Highways and Minor Ports until his elevation to the post of Chief Minister in February 2017. He assumed charge of the Ministry as CM.
The complaint further states, “The above contracts have been awarded to these two firms at an inflated rate thereby causing undue pecuniary advantage to them only because the two firms are controlled by persons who are closely related to Shri Edapadi Palanisami’s son Mithun.The modus it appears have to eliminate and dissuade all eligible contractors from participating in the bid by adopting intimidating tactics. The provisions of the Transparency of Tenders Act,1998 and its rules have been violated with impunity. In fact, it is reliably learnt that Mr R Ramalingam and Mr P Sutharma who are close relatives of the Chief Minister have been awarded several contracts amounting to several crores of rupees for the past seven years and in most of the bids there were only 2 bidders. This is not mere coincidence and needs a thorough investigation.”