The recent income-tax (I-T) raids on the office and premises of former Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary P Rama Mohana Rao lad to a reported recovery of crores of black money. The raid also helped uncover the rot that has set deep in the state administration over the years.
Though corruption in high places has lost its shock value, with late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa being elected to power twice despite court convictions, this was the first time in the history of Tamil Nadu that taxmen entered the state secretariat with the help of central forces.
This was also the first time that the head of the administration was directly embroiled in a scandal.
That Mohana Rao was appointed as personal secretary by Jayalalithaa when she began her third term as CM in 2011 and was made chief secretary over several senior officials when she returned for a fourth term earlier this year reveals the patronage he enjoyed.
With Jayalalithaa not in the picture anymore, tax authorities lost no time in swooping down on him after his nexus with V Shekhar Reddy, a road contractor-turned-sand miner, came to be known.
The raids started Wednesday and ended Thursday morning. They covered not only the chief secretary's office but also his residence and houses of his relatives and associates.
The taxmen reportedly recovered Rs 30 lakh in cash, all in new notes, from his house and five kilogramme gold. They also seized Rs 5 crore from the house of his son Vivek.
The raid closely followed the recovery of over 177 kg gold and Rs 131 crore in cash, of which Rs 34 crore were in new notes, from Reddy.
Rao is believed to have entrusted his ill-gotten wealth with Reddy. Most of the gold seized from the residence of Reddy is said to belong to Rao.
Who is V Shekhar Reddy?
A small-time road contractor from Vellore, Reddy won a Public Works Department (PWD) contracts from members of the Legislative Assembly who doled out money from their Local Area Development Funds. Over years, he established extensive contacts with officials, and by extension with ministers, including current Chief Minister O Panneerselvam who has been holding the PWD portfolio for years.
He branched into illegal sand mining, a multi-crore racket going on for years now despite a report by former Madurai collector Sahayam to the government about mining firms operating from Madurai and neighbouring districts.
He was so highly connected that tehsildar-level officials who tried to stop such illegal sand mining in their area were run over by truckers, but the government took no action.
Reddy, who was removed as a trustee of the Tirupati-Tirumala Devasthanam Board only recently after his arrest, arranged a special darshan for Pannerselvam during his visit to the temple in the wake of Jayalalithaa's acquittal by the Karnataka High Court in the wealth case. A photo of the two at the temple went viral and the new minister has not denied it.
And now Rao
Rao comes from a lower-middle-class family. His father was a state transport corporation driver.After getting an M.Com in costing accounting, he cleared the civil services examinations and joined the TN cadre (1985 batch).
In his latest statement to the Ministry of Personnel, Rao declared that he had no immovable property. His wife owned a house in Chennai, which she said she bought after selling a Tamil Nadu Housing Board flat.
He is the first chief secretary to suffer the ignominy of a raid by tax officials and Pannerselvam was in his office when the I-T men searched Rao's chamber. The supreme irony was that he was also the vigilance commissioner.
Rao's predecessor K Gnanadesikan was suspended in June this year following reports of his nexus with the sand mafia.
In a swift action, Pannerselvam relieved Rao of his duties and appointed Girija Vaidyanathan as the new chief secretary and vigilance commissioner.
Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) leader S Ramadoss said Rao was the kingpin of all corruption deals in the state for the past over five years.
The raid has brought to light the unholy nexus between officials and politicians. In the 1950s, when C Rajagopalachari took over as the first CM of the composite state of Madras, he ordered that the secretariat would be out of bounds for party men.
Probity continued to be the norm when K Kamaraj succeded Rajaji. After his death only Rs 200 was found in his pocket.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has interpreted the raid as politically motivated move like the one seen in Delhi Secretariat that led to Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal's ongoing feud with Prime Minister Narendra Modi government. However, the Tamil Nadu Government has no such quarrel with the Modi government. This led DMK leader MK Stalin to say, "The raid has shamed the state."