Political vendetta reason behind raids: Vijayabaskar

Chennai: DMK described the CBI searches at the residences of Tamilnadu Health Minister C Vijayabaskar and DGP T K Rajendran a "shame" on the state and along with other opposition parties demanded they be sacked, even as the minister termed it as political vendetta and vowed to come clean facing the matter legally and politically.

The ruling AIADMK, however, dismissed opposition calls for resignation or sacking of Vijayabaskar, saying Wednesday's raids were a 'routine' affair done under court direction and that anyone is 'innocent' before law till proven guilty.

The CBI carried out searches at around 40 locations in Tamilnadu, including at the residences of Vijayabaskar and Rajendran, in connection with the Gutka scam.

Vijayabaskar, in a statement, said that since the raids were carried out by CBI on a court direction following a plea by DMK, he was ready to extend full cooperation to any probe as a "law-abiding citizen."

He said he extended full cooperation to the CBI probe Wednesday and that he has not directly or indirectly met Madhav Rao, the gutka manufacturer.

"Some think that they can finish me from politics by repeatedly spreading baseless charges due to political vendetta," he said. Relying on a Tamil saying, he said only those who perform well will be targeted.

"It is normal for my political rivals to level such charges against me as I am working tirelessly to make the Health department a pioneering one in the country," he said.

Stating that he had nothing to hide, the minister said he would face this problem legally and politically and come out of it. The government was taking many steps to implement a 2013 ban on sale of gutka and pan masala, he added.

Meanwhile, DGP Rajendran reportedly met Chief Minister K Palaniswami in the wake of the CBI searches at his residence. Demanding resignation of both Vijayabaskar and the state police chief, DMK President M K Stalin, in a statement, said, "The searches have brought shame on the state... Vijayabaskar continuing in the cabinet and Rajendran as the head of the police department will turn out to be a blot against people's rule and for the force, known for its honesty."

Hence, the Health Minister and the DGP should voluntarily quit their posts. If not, Governor Banwarilal Purohit should dismiss them without further delay, he said and recalled DMK earlier moving court seeking a CBI probe into the Gutka scam, pertaining to alleged pay-offs by a gutka manufacturer.

CPI(M) state Secretary K Balakrishnan also demanded that Vijayabaskar and Rajendran be removed from their posts and made to face the probe. "What respect will people have on police and the government after these raids? This is a very bad situation," he told PTI, adding that CBI should take the case to its logical conclusion.

PMK founder S Ramadoss termed the CBI searches as 'appropriate' in order to nail those involved and asked why the government was 'hesitant' to show the minister the door.

In a statement, he said PMK had for the last two years been insisting that Vijayabaskar be sacked as minister over the issue. "By not removing Vijayabaskar, the K Palaniswami-led dispensation doesn't seem to be a government protecting people's welfare but that of scam-tainted ministers," he said, adding the minister and the DGP continuing in their posts was 'unacceptable,' and they along with others connected in this case should be dismissed by the state government.

Responding to opposition criticism, senior AIADMK leader and fisheries minister D Jayakumar said the central agency had carried out searches as per a court direction and that such things were done 'routinely.'

"Before the law, they are innocent (until proven guilty). There is an investigation and various procedures. It will be determined only in a court whether someone is guilty," he told reporters.

The investigating agency will probe the allegations and produce the material before a trial court, he added. The question of Vijayabaskar quitting on moral grounds would arise only after the verdict in the case, he said.

CBI Wednesday carried out searches across the state and had swooped down, among others, on residences of Vijayabaskar and the DGP, besides a former senior police official.

The scam came to light on 8 July 2017, when income tax sleuths raided the godown, offices and residences of a pan masala and gutka (a concoction of tobacco and pan masala) manufacturer in Tamilnadu, who had been facing charges of tax evasion to the tune of Rs 250 crore.

The manufacture, storage and sale of the chewable forms of tobacco, including gutka and pan masala were banned by the Tamilnadu government in 2013.

During the raids, the IT department had seized a diary containing names of those who had been allegedly paid by the gutka manufacturers. The case was sent to the CBI by the Madras High Court in April this year on the plea of a DMK leader.

The agency had registered an FIR against unidentified officials of the Tamilnadu government, Central Excise Department and the Food Safety Department in May.


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