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Gutkha scam (Relevant for GS Mains; Polity & Governance)

The SC has confirmed that the CBI will investigate the case

What is the gutkha scam?
The manufacturer of the MDM brand of gutkha had allegedly paid several crores of rupees as kickbacks to the Tamil Nadu Health Minister, senior IPS officers, and officials of various Central and State government departments between 2014 and 2016 to ensure the manufacture, storage and sale of gutkha, a banned substance in Tamil Nadu since 2013.

How did it get exposed?
Officials of the Income Tax Department unearthed the scandal while searching the Chennai premises of the manufacturer of MDM in July 2016. They discovered accounts which suggested that Rs. 39.91 crore was paid over two years to the Health Minister, C. Vijaya Baskar, two former Chennai Police Commissioners, and other officials to facilitate illegal trade in tobacco products. The IT Department subsequently sent a confidential report to the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police, with information on the beneficiaries, but the government took no action. Though former Chief Secretary P.S. Rama Mohana Rao confirmed that he had sent the report to the then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, there is nothing on record about the movement of the file or action taken.

In June 2017, The Hindu exposed the alleged pay-offs in an exclusive report. Based on this revelation, opposition parties demanded the removal of the Health Minister and police officers involved in the scam.

Why is there demand for a CBI probe?
The Tamil Nadu government claimed that it had not received any report on the gutkha scam, but subsequently, the IT Department seized a copy of the report from Jayalalithaa’s residence during a search in November 2017. With the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption, a State agency, registering a case against several lower level officials in the scam, political parties and rights activists were up in arms demanding a probe by the CBI since IPS officers (including two of DGP rank), a State Minister and Central Department employees were potentially involved in bribery.

What is the present status of the case?
Passing orders on a petition filed by a DMK MLA, the Madras High Court transferred the case to the CBI for investigation. One of the accused in the case, a Health Department official, moved the Supreme Court against the order. However, last week, the apex court upheld the Madras High Court order.

(Adapted from The Hindu)

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