The gutkha scam in Tamil Nadu

Jayalalithaa wanted to take action in gutkha scam: T.N. ex-Chief Secretary Rama Mohana Rao

P. Rama Mohana Rao addressing the media at his residence.  

Former Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary P. Rama Mohana Rao on Tuesday said the former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa wanted to take “appropriate action” against those named in the scandal by the Income Tax department, based on a note sent by him to her. However, she was hospitalised before she could crack the whip.

A top income tax officer met Mr. Rao on August 12, 2016, and handed over a report with details of corrupt politicians and officials suspected to be involved in allowing the illegal sale of banned tobacco product gutkha in Chennai, Mr. Rao said this in an exclusive interview with The Hindu.

His revelation punctures the claim of the State government in the Madras High Court (Madurai Bench) that no such report on the multi-crore gutkha scam was available on record. The court had ordered an inquiry into the “missing” documents.

“The Principal Director of Investigation, Income Tax, met me and gave two reports. One was regarding the gutkha matter and the other pertaining to police security during Income Tax raids. I immediately asked the Home Secretary to ensure that adequate police protection is given during such raids. Everything was on record that cannot be tampered with. Later, I was transferred without a posting... there was no Chief Secretary in the State for two days. Anything could have happened after I left office,” he said.

Jayalalithaa wanted to take action in gutkha scam: T.N. ex-Chief Secretary Rama Mohana Rao

‘No idea what happened to I-T dept.’s gutkha report I left in office’

Mr. Rao’s exit from the State bureaucracy was as dramatic as his ascension to key posts. The 1985 batch officer, who superseded seniors to become the Chief Secretary, hit national headlines a year ago when income tax officers searched his residence and office, the first such case in the country. Unruffled, he says there is no case against him now. In an interview, the man considered close to Jayalalithaa talks about the gutkha scam and other issues.

Here are the excerpts from the interview:

After being a high-profile bureaucrat, your exit appeared to be unceremonious. How do you look at it?

It is very painful since great injustice was done to me. The income tax searches in my office and residence was part of a big conspiracy. I became a victim because I was a soft target in the absence of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. The search warrant was never in my name. They came to look for some business matters of my son and found ₹1.06 lakh and some gold or silver ornaments that have been accounted for. The hype and false propaganda were engineered by some vested interests. Witch-hunting is still going on to target me. The question as to why paramilitary forces were called in at the time of the searches remains a mystery. There is no case or inquiry against me or my son by the I-T department or any other agency. I have got the assessment orders for the current year also. My family and I had to endure several months of mental agony.

One of the biggest scams to hit this government is the gutkha sale scandal. The I-T Department has claimed that its Director (Investigation) B.R. Balakrishnan met you and the then DGP Ashok Kumar and submitted a report on payments made to a State Minister, top police officers and others. Is this true? If yes, what action did you take?

It is true that the Principal Director of Investigation, I-T Department, met me on August 12, 2016, and gave two reports. One pertained to the details of a State Minister, police officers and others who allegedly received money from a gutkha manufacturer and the other related to providing police security during income tax raids. I sent a detailed note on the gutkha scam to then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa who wanted to take appropriate action. On the other report, I asked the Home Secretary to provide adequate security to the income tax officials while conducting raids. All this is on record. Unfortunately, the Chief Minister fell ill and was hospitalised till her death. I have no knowledge about the [fate of] income tax report that I left in the office of the Chief Secretary when I was transferred out abruptly.

Is it true that Mr. Ashok Kumar was asked to proceed on leave after he sent the I-T report on gutkha scam to Jayalalithaa? Ironically, the IT reports are missing from his office too…

Jayalalithaa was aware of the gutkha scam even before Mr. Ashok Kumar sent a note to her. I am not sure why he opted to retire from service early. Maybe, he would have lost the confidence of Jayalalithaa by then...The Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption is investigating the scam now. I am concerned over the questionnaire they gave me. The questions were framed as if the papers concerned were in my possession. I did my job as Chief Secretary. It is unwarranted to put the onus of proof on someone who was out of office for almost a year and has no interest in the matter. The present incumbent officers have to answer.

You said that injustice had been rendered to you. Can you elaborate?

My record of integrity throughout my 32 years career as an IAS officer in Tamil Nadu has been impeccable. The entire nation appreciated my work in handling the law and order situation when Jayalalithaa was hospitalised and also when she died. Besides VVIP movement, several lakh people paid tributes to her at the Rajaji Hall and Marina Beach...there was not a single untoward incident anywhere. I handled Cyclone Vardha effectively and restored normal life in many districts within a few days. I have shown the way how disasters can be managed. But all my good work is forgotten. Personal allegations were levelled against me without any basis. My retirement from the IAS is not the end. In fact, it a beginning of my public career.

For close to five years, you were at the helm of administration in Tamil Nadu. How do you see the functioning of the bureaucracy now?

The best officers handpicked by Jayalalithaa have been shown the door. The Chief Minister is a good-hearted man and is doing his job to the best of his abilities. But there is a clear lack of cooperation for him from various quarters. I think Jayalalithaa is slowly being forgotten...her noble schemes are being implemented with no involvement, and the progress is tardy. But from what I could perceive, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is interested in continuance of the legacy of Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu. She had good respect for Mr. Modi and considered him a friend. It is up to the State government to get the best of the Central government schemes.

Do you suspect any foul play in the treatment given to Jayalalithaa or her death?

I am appearing before the (Justice Armughasamy) enquiry commission soon and it is not proper for me to say anything at this stage. I am still recovering from the shock of the sudden demise of Jayalalithaa...she is a legend. Vested interests think I am a political hazard since I know too much. Many people think that being affectionate or loyal to Jayalalithaa is a sin or a crime.

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 9:22:40 AM |

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