Chandy charged with Kerala’s biggest industrial graft of decade

via PNS - Kochi published on October 25, 2011

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has been charged with direct involvement in the Rs 121-crore corruption related to an “impractical” pollution control project at State-owned Travancore Titanium Ltd in Thiruvananthapuram, as per documents published by the media on Monday. The affair is billed as Kerala’s biggest industrial corruption of the new millennium.

The allegation against Chandy is that he had gone out of his way to implement a Rs 256-crore pollution control project to the titanium plant, when all it could afford was a Rs 10-crore system. It is said that Chandy had gone for the project on the pretext of obeying a High Court order when he was chief minister between August, 2004 and April, 2006.

Documents published by the media on Monday showed that Chandy had written to Thyagarajan, head of the pollution monitoring panel appointed by the Supreme Court, on April 23, 2005 saying that the State Government wanted the system to be installed at the plant though the Cabinet approved the proposal only a month later.

Chandy reportedly wrote again to the panel on January 5, 2006 requesting immediate clearance for the project saying that it was inevitable for the plant’s operation even when the objections posed by the Pollution Control Board to the proposed system were in force. Strangely, the board’s objections vanished within a week and it cleared the project on January 13, 2005.

Then Health minister KK Ramachandran, who was holding the charge of pollution control, had opposed the project pointing at the alleged corruption behind it. However, Ramachandran was forced to resign from the Cabinet under mysterious circumstances on the very day the board approved the project.

Another mysterious happening was the import of machinery worth Rs 62 crore just before the Assembly election in April, 2006. The machinery, meant to be bought only in the last phase of the project, was imported even before the allotment of the project work. The machines are now rusting inside the yet-to-be-opened containers in the Titanium factory compound.

The whole project died prematurely after the company that had contracted the work said the costs had escalated to beyond Rs 400 crore instead of the formerly anticipated Rs 256 crore. It is also said that the State had suffered severe losses in interests Rs 35 crore had been paid for project installation in advance.

The contradictions in the project were said to have been obvious from very first stage. The then Chandy government had opted for the costly project on the pretext of agreeing to the High Court’s call for a pollution control system at the factory. However, experts say that the court had not made any stipulations about the standards of the system.

It was reportedly pointed out at the very stage of inception of the mega-project itself that the Travancore Titanium, running on a meager average annual profit of Rs 13 crore, could in no way afford a Rs 256-crore project for pollution control alone. What the project wanted was a project worth Rs 10.81 crore, it was said.

In the review of Titanium’s economic affairs till March 31, 2007, the Comptroller and Auditor General, which Chandy himself sees as a credible institution, had found that huge financial irregularities had taken place with regard to the pollution control project. These irregularities included the import of machinery and the payments already made.

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