It is unusual that a court orders an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into a Chief Minister’s actions. But when corruption, nepotism, and conflict of interest come together in the award of contracts, the courts are not left with much choice.
Following a Madras High Court order in June, Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami was probed by the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC), a State government department whose head, an IPS officer, is directly under the Chief Minister. The investigation was into the Highways Department, which is held by the Chief Minister. The Chief Minister did not deem it necessary to divest his portfolio when the inquiry was in progress.
The investigation itself was the result of a court order obtained by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the main opposition party, to examine road contracts awarded to relatives of the Chief Minister. One project involves World Bank funding, and it is inexplicable how the World Bank, which upholds probity and insists on transparency in all contracts, overlooked the granting of a contract to relatives of the Chief Minister.
The DVAC could not be expected to find wrongdoing and it did not find any. The DMK approached the Madras High Court again, and sought an investigation by the CBI. “The court is of the firm opinion that the Enquiry/Investigation [by the DVAC] had not been done in a fair manner and is nothing but a perfunctory exercise thereby, the case has to be necessarily transferred to any other independent agency not under the control of the persons in power,” ordered Justice A.D. Jagadish Chandira on October 12. He added: “The court once again makes it clear that this order does not express any opinion in relation to the allegations made in the complaint of the petitioner. This order is passed only in the interest of justice for ensuring fair, reasonable and transparent investigation.”
The court directed the DVAC to hand over all the relevant files to the CBI within a week. Although the Minister in charge of the DVAC, the usually articulate D. Jayakumar, has kept quiet soon after the court verdict, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) organising secretary C. Ponnaiyan, who has nothing to do with the functioning of the government, has announced that the DVAC might prefer an appeal against the verdict.
The AIADMK gets considerable support from the BJP, which has insisted that merely because there are allegations, the Chief Minister need not resign. “The allegations against the Chief Minister need to be investigated,” said State BJP president Tamilisai Soundararajan. All other political parties in the State, led by the DMK, have demanded the resignation of the Chief Minister.
But Palaniswami will not resign. He will be the second Minister in the Cabinet to be investigated by the CBI, after Health Minister C. Vijayabaskar.