Mining trouble

Last Updated: Sat, Dec 22, 2012 05:01 hrs

A Selvaraj, 31, runs a printing press near Madurai railway station where he employs five people. In the past, January and September have been good months for him, business-wise. That’s because in January, DMK workers in the city celebrate the birthday of MP and Union Fertilizer Minister M K Alagiri, and in September that of his son, Durai Dayanidhi Alagiri. Falling over each other to get into the good books of their leaders, they inundate Selvaraj with large orders for posters, which are then pasted all over the temple town.

But this September, Selvaraj didn't get a single order. Nobody, it seems, wanted to celebrate Durai’s twenty-seventh birthday. In fact, nobody knew where to find him. Durai had been in hiding since early August when the district administration issued a lookout circular against him for his alleged role in the Rs 16,000-crore granite scam.

The police tried all tricks to find his whereabouts — they questioned his family, friends, business associates and DMK workers. They even started tracking Durai's facebook posts to get some clues. But nothing clicked. Then, last Thursday (December 13), Durai arrived at Madurai airport from an undisclosed location — he had been granted anticipatory bail three days ago by the Madras High Court. Next morning, he appeared before the judicial magistrate accompanied by a battery of advocates, surrendered his passport and provided a personal surety. The court directed him to appear daily at the Keezhavalavur police station near Melur, until further orders.

Last year, on September 27, Durai’s birthday, I and other unsuspecting passengers had got off at Madurai bus stand early in the morning to be welcomed with laddoos by celebrating DMK workers. Posters and banners festooned the walls and roads of the town. These praised Durai in well thought-out honorifics in tune with Dravidian politics. Special pujas were being conducted in temples and the air was heavy with sycophancy. Durai was, after all, being groomed as Alagiri’s successor. And Alagiri is the undisputed heavyweight leader of Madurai, who warned the DMK high command last week that nothing could happen here without his support.

* * *

Durai’s public life started right after college when he founded Daya (his name) Cricket Academy in Madurai. An avid cricketer, he encouraged youngsters in the town to take up the sport. After graduating in engineering from Anna University, the youngest child of Alagiri and his wife Kanthi had got into two businesses by the time he was 22: a cyberpark in Madurai and a film production venture called Cloud Nine. While the IT park was not very successful, Durai tasted great success as a producer with nearly a dozen films under his Cloud Nine banner. (Not just Durai, the entire third generation of the DMK family is involved in the Tamil film industry. Durai’s cousins, Arivunidhi, Arulnithi Tamilarasu and Udayanidhi Stalin, are all actors and producers.) He also held a 50 per cent share in multi-service operator JAK Communications, but later sold off the stake.

Friends say Durai always wanted to be a successful entrepreneur, and his inspiration was Kalanithi Maran (grandfather M Karunanidhi’s grandnephew), who built a multi-billion rupee business empire straddling the media, aviation and cricket from scratch.

But, unlike Maran, Durai found it hard to stay away from politics, which might have landed him in trouble. People who know Durai well say that he is affable and well-mannered, but are uncertain of his business acumen. They feel his penchant to try out new ventures has landed him in trouble over the illegal mining of granite. A family friend reveals that Durai knew little about granite and had no reason to invest in the sector, except that granite was proving to be a money spinner. Local DMK workers say that an exporter, in a bid to please Alagiri, got Durai to invest in granite.

* * *

Durai became a partner in Olympus Granites. All was well until the government led by his grandfather, Karunanidhi, fell in May 2011, and DMK’s arch rival, J Jayalalithaa, became the new chief minister. In May 2012, Madurai Collector Ubagarampillai Sagayam said in a 13-page confidential report that illegal quarrying of granite in the district had cost the government over Rs 16,000 crore.

Anshul Mishra, who replaced Sagayam as collector of Madurai in May, had recently told Business Standard that 175 quarries have been inspected, of which serious violations were found in 86. The violations included quarrying beyond the permitted quantity, illegal quarrying, destruction of government land, water bodies, pathways, et cetera, and not mining according to the mining plan.

Owners of large mining companies including PRP Granites, Sindu Granites, Aishwarya and Olympus Granites were brought under scrutiny. While all others were arrested, Durai disappeared after an FIR was registered against him by the local administrative officer at Keezhavalavu police station.

Though neither Olympus nor he are the primary accused, his lineage has brought him into the limelight, says one of the investigating officers. Officers investigating the scam say Olympus had taken away granite from the area that belongs to Tamil Nadu Minerals, a public sector company which was incorporated by the M G Ramachandran government in 1978. “While they [Olympus] had only one mine, they have taken away around 1,000 cubic metres. In, fact the lease area where the company got approval to mine was used less than what it was mining in Tamil Nadu Minerals’ area,” says one officer.

Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s Madurai rural unit secretary, C Ramakrishnan, who has initiated public interest litigation to transfer the probe into the granite scam to the Central Bureau of Investigation, says Tamil Nadu officers knew illegal mining was going on in Madurai but couldn’t do anything for reasons including politics, money and muscle power. In his petition, Ramakrishnan has alleged that 7,000-8,000 acres of agriculture land, 18-20 ponds, mountains, water bodies, government land and even burial grounds in Melur Taluka were grabbed by three private companies — PRP, Olympus and Sindu — in collusion with officers and politicians.

Durai claims he had quit Olympus in 2010, but his letter of resignation was not submitted to the Registrar of Companies until 2011. The police believe that he resigned only after the regime changed in Tamil Nadu last year. A senior investigating officer, who doesn’t want to be identified, says that Durai resigned from the company only in 2011, while illegal mining had been going on for several years. “He is liable for whatever illegal things happened during the time he was with the company,” he adds. “Durai’s involvement is yet to be proved. But our charge sheet will be filed based on the fact that he was one of the directors when this happened.”

Several attempts to reach Durai failed. But in a counter petition filed with the investigating authority, Durai has contended that he is being victimised because of his political connections. In Tamil Nadu politics, that is a charge few can deny. On Monday, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa declared that her government “is in the process of confiscating illegally-mined granite valued at Rs 4,000 crore” and is also taking action to attach properties equivalent to Rs 9,783 crore of those involved in the scam.

More from Sify: