The Madras High Court has reserved orders on an application preferred by AIADMK interim general secretary and former Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami to restrain Jayaram Venkatesan of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) Arappor Iyakkam from holding press conferences or issuing statements against him until the disposal of a suit seeking damages of ₹1.1 crore.
Justice Krishnan Ramasamy deferred his verdict after hearing advocate S.R. Rajagopal, representing the former Chief Minister, who contended that the NGO had been levelling baseless allegations against his client just to gain cheap publicity. He argued that irreparable loss of reputation had been caused to his client because of linking his name with the alleged ₹692 crore tender irregularities in the Highways Department between 2019 and 2021.
On the other hand, advocate V. Suresh, representing the NGO, contended that the charges levelled by his client were bonafide and based on public records. He argued that every allegation had been made after due diligence, and on the basis of official records obtained under the Right to Information Act of 2005. He also pointed out that the Highways department was handled directly by Mr. Palaniswami during his stint as Chief Minister between 2017 and 2021.
The counsel said that it was the plaintiff who had framed and approved the Performance-based Maintenance Contract, announced in the 2019 budget speech. The policy consolidated the maintenance of all existing State highways and major district roads in Thanjavur district. Such consolidation encouraged monopoly and cartelisation of contractors and the maintenance contracts were awarded for a period of five years, he added.
Mr. Suresh also told the court that the policy provided for awarding of maintenance and relaying contracts for even newly laid roads even though the design life of State highways and major district roads was 15 years as per Indian Road Congress specifications. He said the policy provided for award of contracts at inflated rates and it was these discrepancies that the NGO had highlighted in its complaint to the government.