Even as the Enforcement Directorate continued searches at several locations for the second day on Wednesday to probe charges of money-laundering in Tamil Nadu’s sand mining business, the sand lorry owners’ association has flagged serious irregularities in the sale of sand at the State-owned depots.
Sources said ED teams were examining officials and private persons linked to the sand mining business and scrutinising records seized during Tuesday’s searches at over 40 locations in several districts, especially the sand sales depots managed by the Water Resources Department.
The ED is probing allegations that a huge quantity of sand was sold offline and fake bills were issued to sand lorry owners, and this caused a loss of GST revenue to the Central and State governments and the money thus earned was laundered, the sources said.
The Tamil Nadu Sand Lorries Owners’ Protection Association has flagged serious irregularities in the sale of sand at the State-owned depots.
Its president K. Rajasekar said private persons were managing the depots and selling sand illegally offline at exorbitant rates. While the State government had fixed ₹1,000 per unit of river sand, unauthorised persons handling the yards were forcing lorry operators to buy a minimum of 3 units of sand for 6-wheel lorries and 5 units for 10-wheel lorries at a cost of ₹5,300 and ₹7,950 respectively.
“Private agents use hand-held machines to issue bills that have QR Code, GST number and signatures that are all fake... The entire money goes to private parties. The question of GST payment to government accounts does not arise as the entire sale in offline mode is illegal,” Mr. Rajasekar told The Hindu on Wednesday.
He said that on an average, 500 sand lorry operators purchase sand at 15 depots across the State. There would be no record of sales, though the government had mandated CCTV camras be installed and sales records be maintained.
“The lorry drivers/sand dealers have the fake bills in their possession. Going by a conservative estimates, the Tamil Nadu government would have lost ₹3,500-₹4,000 crore in the last one year and four months... But the Water Resources Department says the government earned only ₹18.66 crore through the sale of river sand from April 1, 2022 to May 1, 2023. One particular group handled all this illegal activity... Where did all the money go,” Mr. Rajasekar asked.
He claimed that the association had written to the State government, the Raj Bhavan and a few Central law-enforcement agencies, highlighting the fraud in the sale of river sand, but no action was taken.
The ED teams continued their searches at various places in Pudukottai district for the second day. They searched the office of sand mining contractor S. Ramachandran in Pudukottai town and his house at Muthupattinam village near Vallathirakottai. The searches, which were launched at Ramachandran’s office and house on Tuesday morning, went on till late at night.
Police sources said an ED team searched the house of Karikalan, another sand mining contractor, said to be close to Ramachandran, at Kulanthiranpattu in the Karambakudi police station limits for several hours on Wednesday. A similar action was taken at the house of Veerappan, a relative of Ramachandran, near Vamban.
The house of Manivannan, said to be a business partner of Ramachandran, in Pudukottai Town was also searched. The sources said the ED teams had taken possession of some documents from the house of Manivannan. Ramachandran, Veerappan and Karikalan were not at home when the searches were under way.
(With inputs from R. Rajaram in Tiruchi.)