Who says crime doesn't pay?

When Karunanidhi added fuel to Ramar Pillais fire The story of Herbal petrol fraud
news Crime Saturday, October 15, 2016 - 18:07

Just about 20 years ago, a school drop-out held fort at the seat of power in Tamil Nadu - Fort St. George - making a demonstration for then Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, Energy Mnister Arcot N Veerasamy, Union Industries Minister Murasoli Maran and other senior bureaucrats. The cabinet committee room of the State Secretariat had turned into a demo room for Ramar Pillai, enacting what would later turn out to be the herbal fuel fraud. 

It was September 16, 1996, the day when it was all fire and smoke at the Secretariat cabinet room. Karunanidhi even helped Ramar drop the herb in a vessel which had two litres of water. Six drops of the herbal extract, a few pinches of common salt and a little bit of lime juice were added. Ramar added a catalyst. 15 minutes later, the concoction was filtered, and the fuel was ready for testing.

A piece of paper was placed in front of the Chief Minister. He poured a spoonful of the fuel on to the paper. The Energy minister, Veerasamy, lit the paper. The burning fuel was added to the glass containing the concoction. 

The fire became a big enough for the Chief Minister to announce, amidst all-round applause, that the State Government would ask the Centre to provide Ramar the patent for his fuel, and also help him get the fuel patented abroad. He also said that Ramar would be allotted 10 acres of land in his native village, Idaiyankulam, near Rajapalayam in the present Virudhunagar district, where he would put up a research lab/pilot plant to produce at least 50 litres of the herbal petrol a day.

In fact, Karunanidhi said he wanted to provide Ramar land in Avadi, near Chennai, as it would be easier to provide him security in an area occupied by the Defence forces (Avadi hosts the IAF and a Heavy Vehicles Factory). However, Karunanidhi said Ramar had turned down the offer as the herb wouldn't grow there. Karunanidhi said he had also ordered the State Government to settle all his debts and that he was allowed to sell a production of 50 litres a day.

Karunanidhi would later question whether Lord Rama was an engineer (a reference to the Ram Sethu bridge which, according to the Ramayana, was built by Rama to cross the sea to reach Lanka). However, at that time, he did not raise any doubt as to whether Ramar was a revolutionary scientist or not.

With such a fabulous start, Ramar found life was a bed of roses, as many in Rajapalayam would queue up to buy the herbal fuel for their vehicles, and investors made him offers to buy his fuel and the plant. Ministers and industrialists are said to have offered him money for partnership in the business.

Things were not easy for him in the past. He was once abducted, and made to hang upside down and tortured with cigarette butts in an effort to get his formula. His makeshift lab was once burnt down.

Therefore, it is said that his lab was even provided police security.

However, things turned sour for him in 1999-2000. His tests at the IIT and at the Indian Institute of Petroleum were dubbed failures. He dismissed this as a case of professional jealousy, as a school drop-out would not be allowed to succeed.

Ramar later said, “A lot of people have been threatening to steal my technology and trying to keep the product from entering the market. I have decided to get it to the market in some part of the country within a month. The Himachal Pradesh chief minister has a licence ready for me. I made a lot of enemies after I was successful in selling 15 lakh litres of fuel between 1996 and 2001. None of my customers complained.” At one time, he claimed to run 29 retail outlets, and that his fuel was clean and non-pollutant. 

On the other hand, complaints did start coming in. There were charges of misuse of stolen petroleum products. He was accused of clandestinely adding petrol from the stick he used as stirrer to make his herbal mixture. In March 2000, the CBI arrested him, on the charge of cheating the public by selling stolen industrial chemicals as motor fuel. He was accused of fraud and making his fuel from a mixture of chemicals that could damage vehicles and chemicals stolen from refineries. The investigators seized more than 10,000 litres of Ramar Herbal Fuel, containers of chemicals, additives and a large sum of cash.

Ramar later came out on bail. In 2010, he made another attempt to sell bio-fuel at Rs. 5 a litre and sought government's help.

In 2015, Ramar made a fresh bid, saying he would sell his brand of fuel to the Defence, and claimed he had the support of Prime Minister Modi and Defence Minister Parikkar. Perhaps, Modi could help him sell Swach Fuel, and Parikar might make use of him during surgical strikes to use the fuel to burn down the terrorists' camps across the LOC!

Ramar wouldn't call it quits. To him, the powerful petroleum lobby was working against him. He even promised to provide power from his fuel at a low cost of Rs. 2 per unit, and promised to make Tamil Nadu power surplus.

On October 13, 2016, finally came the conviction from the court of the Additional Metropolitan Magistrate in Chennai, sentencing him and four other associates to three years Rigorous Imprisonment each, and a total fine of Rs 30,000. Ramar has to pay a meagre fine of Rs 6,000 but had amassed at least Rs 2.27 crore fraudulently, according to the CBI case.  Who says crime doesn't pay?


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