May 27 2020
No question of CM giving up Highways portfolio: Jayakumar
22 October 2018

Says HC has neither blamed the Chief Minister nor pointed to any irregularity

With the Madras High Court ordering a CBI probe into the allegations of corruption in the award of contracts by the State Highways Department, the AIADMK government, under Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, has come under intense scrutiny. In an interview on Sunday, senior party leader and Fisheries Minister D. Jayakumar defended the government, saying it had ensured transparency in the award of tenders, and insisting that there was no need for Mr. Palaniswami to give up the Highways portfolio. Excerpts:

The Madras High Court has ordered a CBI probe into contracts awarded by the Highways Department, a portfolio held by the Chief Minister. This comes against the backdrop of recent cases against a few other senior Ministers. Don’t you think this has dented the AIADMK government’s image?

No, we cannot look at it like that because that [High Court’s] order has not pinpointed so. There has been no specific direction indicating that there is prima facie evidence against the Chief Minister and that he has to be enquired. Secondly, an agency under the government should not enquire (these charges); hence, the CBI probe has been ordered. The judgment has not pointed out that there is a motive in this or that there is an irregularity.

Why can’t the Chief Minister give up the Highways portfolio until the probe is completed?

The judgment of the High Court has not pin-pointed (the role of) anyone. So, stepping aside from the portfolio or resignation is unnecessary. Though the reason often cited [for such a move] is the possibility of destruction of evidence, no one can damage documents which are in the custody of the investigating agency. There is no question of changing the portfolio. The documents will speak for themselves.

Many sensitive cases, such as the one relating to the death of DSP Vishnu Priya and the recent highways tender case, were initially handled by State agencies but eventually transferred to the CBI by the court. Don’t these raise doubts about the credibility of the State investigating agencies?

We cannot question the credibility of the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti Corruption (or CB-CID). In many cases, the DVAC has probed corruption charges against government employees, leading to their conviction. The DVAC is doing its job well. We cannot doubt the agency’s credibility based on just a couple of cases.

The government, on its own, favoured a CBI probe into the idol theft case. Why then did it resist a CBI probe into other cases, including the present Highways Department tender case?

We are not hesitant. The High Court has given its judgment. Till date, the DVAC has not decided whether to go in for an appeal (against the CBI probe). So far, we have not said anything on this issue. Let the DVAC decide. Our Chief Minister has said that we are willing to face any probe.

Why are the tenders floated and awarded by the government for various departments being disputed? Be it egg procurement for mid-day meals or the electricity contract or the one for laying of roads...

We are transparent in (the award of) tenders, as per the Tamil Nadu Transparency in Tender Act, and there is no chance of any irregularity. If L-1 says he would provide an item for ₹80 and L-2 says he would provide the same item for ₹70, we have to award it to L-2. We have to check whether the second person is eligible to supply items, the quality of material and the specifics. So, how can there be any irregularity in the award of tenders? Only if there is any irregularity, a remedy could be sought through the RTI Act, the court or any other forum.

There is a perception that the raids by the Income Tax Department and the CBI are carried out at the behest of the Central government to arm-twist the State government. Your views...

The I-T Department, the CBI or any other agency for that matter... they are all independent. When they collect specific inputs on tax evasion or any other charge, they are only doing their job. There is no connection between raids and the government. In fact, these agencies have conducted raids in many private companies and against film actors. We need not be afraid of such raids.

It has been three months since the last Assembly session in which the State government enacted the Lokayukta Bill. But nothing has happened since...

We are definitely committed. We were of the view that we need to wait for the Centre to frame rules (for constituting the Lokayukta). Meanwhile, the SC set a deadline to frame rules. Since we had a draft and a proposal ready, we passed the Bill in the Assembly. We are framing the rules presently. Once they are framed, the next step is to appoint the chairman and members.

Could you provide a timeframe for constituting the Lokayukta?

Once the rules are framed, the next step is the constitution of the body. It will happen shortly.



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