India: Income Tax raids on Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary Rao’s home and office, Girija IAS takes charge as new CS
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
The demonetization drive of the Modi government, driving the common people run for money for their daily living, is taking a new turn with IT officials searching houses and offices of the suspected asset holders across the nation and in Tamil Nadu IT has arrested the Reddy gang and searched the house and office of state Chief Secretary Rama Mohana Rao and found huge sum of what appears to be illegally gotten money and gold.
Indian Income Tax department on 21 December conducted a raid on the premises of Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary P. Rama Mohana Rao. I-T officials are conducting raids at Tamil Nadu Secretariat as well.
Sources said the name of Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary P Rama Mohana Rao cropped up after officials questioned Shekar Reddy, a businessman and former member of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam Board in Tirupati, Telengana. Crores of money and gold bars were recovered from Shekar Reddy recently and led the investigation to the house of TN chief secretary and office at Madras Fort – the state’s power house,
Further, the Income Tax department today conducted searches at over a dozen locations in connection with its tax evasion probe against the son and few other relatives of Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary P Rama Mohana Rao. The searches that began as early as 6:00 AM are on at various places in the state and neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh. “A total of 13 premises are being searched,” a senior official said, adding the premises connected to Rao’s son and other relatives are part of the operation.
Reports suggest, I-T officials were also seen at the Tamil Nadu Secretariat. A team arrived in three cars along with paramilitary security.
Reddy gang has been very active in their home state Andhra Pradesh/Telengana, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu with close links with the governments and top officals, including IAS and IPS officers, in illegal deals, minting huge sums in such operations.
The Tamil Nadu government was not aware of central paramilitary forces being deployed at the residence of Rao, according to a senior police officer, who preferred not to be quoted.
In other news, Shekar Reddy has been arrested and produced before the Madras High Court.
Central Reserve Police Force personnel were seen posted outside Rao’s house to protect the officals.
DMK treasurer M.K. Stalin and other opposition leaders expressed concern if the state is being looted by the fence itself then how the common people could be served. Stalin tweeted that such a raid is “shameful. Authorities who are corrupt should not be allowed to escape.”
Mamata Banerjee questions Modi action
However, expressing her displeasure to the raid, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said while corruption needs to be condemned strongly, such a move “devalues the institution of head of the civil service”. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) chairperson, who, since November 8 when PM Modi announced demonetization, has been most critical of the demonetisation exercise by the Centre, asked why the Central agencies were not raiding the house of Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah.
Why this vindictive, unethical, technically improper action? Is it only to disturb the federal structure? Why don’t they raid Amit Shah and others who are collecting money? Rebutting West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s criticism of the Income Tax raids on Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary P Ramama Mohana Rao, BJP said Wednesday’s raids prove the agency was working without any discrimination and had carried out a “usual procedure.” BJP state President Tamilisai Soundararajan said I-T authorities had been conducting searches in the state of late, with lot of seizures being made from a private contractor, Shekhar Reddy. “And today, searches are being conducted at the Chief Secretary’s residence. This is a usual procedure undertaken by the Income Tax department. So how is it acceptable if those like Mamata Banerjee call it vindictive action,” she said. “The taxmen raid a place on suspicion or on information of ‘movement of money’ and “they will say there was nothing (incriminating available) if that is the case,” she told reporters. “The raids are done to see if any illegal cash is present.
BJP said that the tax sleuths just don’t go about conducting searches but gather all relevant information before doing so. Today’s searches were also proof that the I-T department was “working without any discrimination”, she said and pointed out that cash, gold and documents had been seized in earlier I-T searches in the state. Recalling PM Narendra Modi’s statement, she said ‘honest people need not fear’ as the tax evasion and black money probe was targeted against those indulging in irregularities. “Therefore, today’s searches are an action in support of people,” she added.
Even as the raid was on at Rao’s residence in the morning, a senior investigating officer told the media that the Chief Secretary had been under the scanner for quite some time now.
Corrupt Chief Secretary
Rao was appointed Chief Secretary in June this year. He also holds full additional charge of Vigilance Commissioner and Commissioner for Administrative Reforms.
In June 2016, in a surprise move, he was appointed as the Chief Secretary by CM Jayalalithaa superseding some seniors and replacing K. Gnanadesikan (since suspended), when Jayalalithaa retained power. On May 16, the day late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa assumed office after returning to power in 2011, P Rama Mohana Rao was appointed as her secretary -I in the Chief Minister’s Office. Five years later, after she won the re-election, Rao was made the chief secretary in a shock reshuffle of the brass.
As the head of Tamil Nadu’s bureaucracy and also in terms of power and influence, Rao is among the most important persons in the administration who was found standing at Jaya’s feet after her demise. No wonder then that the IT officials’ visit early on Wednesday morning has caused more than a flutter in the State. It has to be noted here that Rao has only seven months left for retirement.
Hailing from Andhra Pradesh in Chittur district, Rao belongs to the 1985 batch, and joined the service as additional collector in 1987. He was appointed as chief secretary on June 8, just a fortnight after Jaya’s AIADMK government assumed office, removing the incumbent, K Gnanadesikan, abruptly. Gnanadesikan, who wielded considerable influence till then was even suspended from service.
Rama Mohana Rao has never been on a Central deputation to serve in union ministries or departments in Delhi. But he worked as vice chairman of Gujarat Maritime Board between 2001 and 2003. Rao has worked in departments including health, water resources, transport, social welfare, housing and urban development among others. He also headed the Teachers Recruitment Board in 2007, was the CMD of Tamil Nadu Newsprint and Papers Limited, and Commissioner, Land Reforms. He has also been functioning as the Vigilance Commissioner and Commissioner for Administrative Reforms, another key portfolio in the state government. On deputation, he had also served as Vice Chairman of Gujarat Maritime Board between August 2001 and October, 2003.
Former Chief Secretary among 8 officials suspended
Tamil Nadu administration at all levels is filled with corrupt officals. Interestingly, former chief secretary was suspended for his illegal deeds. On 31 August, Senior IAS officer and former Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary K. Gnanadesikan and Commissioner of Geology and Mining Atul Anand were suspended along with six other government officials, pending an inquiry into certain charges allegedly linked to “beach sand mining” in the southern districts.
While three of the suspended officials belong to the Geology and Mining Department, three others were working in the Environment Department, including the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board. Mr. Gnanadesikan, who was Chief Secretary for about one-and-a-half years till early June when P. Rama Mohana Rao replaced him, was holding the post of Chairman and Managing Director of the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO) in the rank of Additional Chief Secretary. One IAS officer claimed that action was taken against them for reportedly endorsing a report of a panel of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, which gave a clean chit to beach mining firms during a joint inspection in April 2015.
The joint inspection report came into focus when leading beach sand mining baron S. Vaikundarajan of V.V. Minerals cited it in his defence in a statement released to the media against the backdrop of his brother V.S. Kumaresan alleging massive illegal mining by the firm at a press conference a day earlier. A delegation of officers of the IAS met the then Chief Secretary, P. Rama Mohan Rao, in Chennai and expressed their “concerns” over the suspensions.
Bribes to PM Modi and BJP?
Meanwhile, Congress party Vice President Rahul Gandhi today alleged that Narendra Modi as Gujarat Chief Minister had taken money from Sahara and Birla groups and demanded an independent inquiry into it, a charge BJP rejected as an attempt to divert attention from the AgustaWestland probe in which the names of Congress leaders and the “family” were coming up.
Addressing a rally here in the prime Minister’s home state, he alleged that in the I-T records there are notings of Sahara officials’ claims that they had paid 9 times to Modi between October, 2013 and February, 2014. Gandhi said the documents in this regard were with IT department which had raided the company when Modi was Gujarat Chief Minister. Similarly, as per documents with Income Tax department, the Birla group also paid Rs 12 crore to Modi when he was Chief Minister. Wondering as to why there has been no probe in the matter so far, Gandhi demanded an independent inquiry.
Rahul Gandhi said he was raising the issue on behalf of the country which needs answers over the questions raised against the PM Modi. Reacting to Gandhi’s allegations, senior BJP leader and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in New Delhi that the charges are “baseless, false, shameful and mala fide” and an attempt to divert attention from the AgustaWestland probe as names of Congress leaders and the “family” are coming up.
Meanwhile. the searches in the residences and offices of suspected people with illegal wealth have been intensified and in West Bank the IC officals are searching the houses of a few important peruses.
TN Chief Secretary Rao sacked, new CS takes charge
As the news about Rao’s illegal cash and gold reserves, and the demand of TN Opposition parties to replace Rao, the TN cabinet met to decide the matter. According to the latest news, Tamil Nadu government of O Panneerselvam has sacked the Chief secretary Rao and appointed Mss Girija Vaidyanathan IAS as the new Chief Secretary.
Vaidyanathan now is the senior-most IAS officer working in Tamil Nadu at the moment. Only Economic Affairs Secretary in the Government of India, Shaktikanta Das of the 1980 batch who is looking after the entire demonetisation exercise, is senior to her. In going by the rule book and avoiding whimsical arbitrariness, Tamil Nadu has done the right thing. What’s more, Vaidyanathan at 57 has another two and a half years of service left.
The new chief secretary hails from an illustrious family from Nagercoil in south Tamil Nadu. She is the daughter of S Venkitaramanan, who was Reserve Bank of India governor from 1990 to 1992, in charge of India’s central bank when liberalisation began. A PhD in health economics from IIT Madras, Vaidyanathan’s forte has been the health and environment fields. Her colleagues in the bureaucracy give her credit for the fact that Tamil Nadu does very well on indices of fertility rate, infant and maternal mortality rate.
With Vaidyanathan’s posting, the first step towards flushing out the muck has been taken. Things had gotten so rotten in Tamil Nadu’s political and bureaucratic ecosystem that corruption had become a joint venture. Vaidyanathan’s tenure is significant because this is an officer with honest reputation, and she now has the responsibility to win back the Tamil Nadu bureaucracy its badge of honour.
A look at the track record of Vaidyanathan’s two predecessors would give you a sense of the rot in the system. It is not just Rao who is seen as having sullied the reputation of babu-dom in the state. Gnanidesikan was suspended after being removed as chief secretary, on charges linked to beach sand mining in southern Tamil Nadu. The fact that Jayalalithaa chose two allegedly tainted officers for the top job, reflects poorly on her judgement and the kind of government she ran.
Because Vaidyanathan’s brother-in-law is BJP leader and popular actor S.Ve.Shekher, it is being speculated that the NDA government at the Centre may have had a hand in her appointment. Votaries of this theory say this is because Vaidyanathan never got plum postings during AIADMK regimes. But that would be belittling Vaidyanathan’s abilities.
“Girija Vaidyanathan’s appointment is a balm for the wounds of honest bureaucrats in Tamil Nadu. We have had too many of the pliable and wheeler-dealer appointments that operated like a mafia,” says M G Devasahayam, former IAS officer.
Senior bureaucrats point out that many of Tamil Nadu’s problems arise because the chief secretary also holds the position of the Vigilance commissioner. This means a corrupt chief secretary and officers who obey his diktat can get away with murder because there is no one to challenge them within the Tamil Nadu administrative system. The state, in the interest of transparency and to clean up the dirt, would do well to appoint another senior officer to the vigilance post to facilitate independent probes.
Over the years in Tamil Nadu, especially under Jayalalithaa, the post of the chief secretary was sought to be devalued with the Advisor to the government having a decisive say in matters of governance. Vaidyanathan has her task cut out to restore to the chief secretary’s office its rightful place in the administration instead of being reduced to a mere post office between the chief minister’s office and other departments.
Admittedly, Vaidyanathan takes charge at a difficult time. The state is in a state of political flux after Jayalalithaa’s demise and the AIADMK’s attempt to prop up VK Sasikala, not just as party chief but even as chief minister. O Panneerselvam is not seen as an assertive CM, even though he is seen to have New Delhi’s backing. Vaidyanathan will have to hit the ground running.
The winds of change are beginning to blow in Tamil Nadu. And one thing is clear, it is a very good sign. In appointing Vaidyanathan, the Tamil Nadu government has corrected the wrong that was committed in June when Rao, a 1985 batch IAS officer was appointed, superseding 17 officers. In fact, Vaidyanathan, who belongs to the 1981 batch, was superseded even when K Gnanidesikan of the 1982 batch was appointed as chief secretary before Ramamohana Rao. Gnanidesikan had superseded 12 officers when he was appointed in December 2014..
DMK treasurer and opposition leader MK Stalin has demanded a special assembly session to debate, among other issues, the IT search of TN chief secretary’s office at Madras Fort.
The writing on the wall was clear after the income tax raids on chief secretary Ramamohana Rao’s residence and 12 other locations in Chennai, Bengaluru and Andhra Pradesh. That it was time for Tamil Nadu to clean up its act. Within 24 hours, Girija Vaidyanathan, an officer with a no-nonsense work ethic, was appointed as his successor. The political class reportedly wanted to wait till an FIR was filed but was advised that the raid had already dented the image of the government and any delay would only reflect poorly on the AIADMK.