VACB’s battle against check-post corruption in Palakkad

These days, anti-corruption enforcers in Palakkad district rarely use their official vehicles to inspect the 26-odd border check-posts that straddle the district’s porous border with neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

The check-points, manned by Commercial Taxes, Excise, and Motor Vehicle Department officials, are in the frontline of the State’s “increasingly losing” battle against the smuggling of contraband, primarily fast moving commercial goods, and illicit spirit.

Check-post corruption has facilitated free flow of smuggled goods into Kerala’s vibrant market for edible perishables and consumer durables at a huge cost to the public exchequer, according to State’s tax enforcers.

Parallel economy

They say the ingrained culture of bribery at inter-State border check-posts and the large parallel economy it has spawned have contributed to the massive shortfall in duty collection this financial year, an estimated Rs.16,000 crore as of February 28, 2014.

Directive issued

In a bid to staunch the seemingly unstoppable flow of duty avoided goods and illicit spirit into the State, Director, Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB), Vinson. M. Paul, had recently ordered his detectives to conduct “surprise inspections” at check-posts and those in Palakkad were inevitably the main focus of the anti-corruption drive.

However, to maintain surprise in the battle against check-post corruption in Palakkad was easier said than done.

Since 2012, the VACB had conducted not less than 20 vigilance raids on the check-posts with little result.

It seemed vigilance inspectors simply could not achieve the element of surprise crucial to the success of such raids.

Paid informants

However on May 5, things were to be different. Vigilance enforcers headed by DySP M. Sukumaran had by then learnt that paid informants on continuous stakeout in front of the VACB’s district headquarters notified corrupt check-post officials of imminent raids by basing their guesses on the movement of the unit’s vehicles.

“The moment two vans left the office, the informants would alert their handlers in all the 26 check-posts,” an investigator said.

Mr. Sukumaran’s team seized the initiative and sprung the surprise by using private vehicles for the operation, which commenced from a location other than the VACB’s headquarters.

Cash seized

Investigators, who entered the Excise check-post at Velanthavalam, seized Rs. 23,000 in cash and arrested an agent who collected the money as bribe for officials from drivers of cargo vehicles in reciprocation for a slack inspection of their cargo for contraband.

“The rate for passing a vehicle without proper inspection was Rs.50 and the money we seized was the collection for less than six hours,” a VACB official said.

Five suspended

Excise Commissioner Anil Xavier has suspended five officials who manned the check-post. The VACB has recommended registration of cases against the officials.

Senior civil police officer P.B.Narayanan led the intelligence team.

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