Sunday, Oct 02, 2022

Chennai Corner

The tale of woes of DMK's central ministers continues. First there was S. Jagathrakshakan's involvement with coalgate, and now Azhagiri, is looking at the possible arrest of his son, Dayanidhi Azhagiri...

Amma’s Pack of Men

It’s not breaking news when anyone says that Jayalalitha might have a 33 member cabinet, but she’s the only one who matters. It took her six cabinet reshuffles before she was happy that she had moved her pawns right— the last one happened on January 26 this year and she inducted Mukkur N. Subramanian as the minister for information technology. He got a new IT secretary S. K. Prabhakar on March 3 this year. But more than six months later, Subramaniam seems to have trouble remembering his IT secretary’s name. And apparently has no finesse (actually from his world view it does not matter, as long as all his energies are directed to keep amma happy). Anyway recently his lack of grace— and his lack of being in sync with the portfolio he has been given— was evident. Speaking at a job fair at Anna University, Subramaniam yelled out during his address at the audience when he spotted a NASSCOM (which had organized the fair) official asking him for his name so he could mention him in his address. A little while later he made the audience squirm again. Spotting Prabhakar on the dais, he again said loudly, “Secretary, can you give me your name?” Prabhakar cringed but had no option other than to speak out his name. Subramaniam’s aide later defended the minister saying, “The minister forgot because he has been busy of late.” Doing what one wonders, if he does not remember the names of crucial officials in his department. The irony is that this is one more time Amma’s chosen IT minister has behaved in an embarrassing manner. Her first IT minister R B Udaykumar chose to go barefoot because “Amma (Jayalalitha) is my God. I can never wear footwear and step where she has walked.” Udaykumar’s sycophancy did not get him far because last November she dropped him, barely six months after inducting him.

Green at the Gills

Speaking of embarrassments, most mediamen covering the bid to block the Tuticorin port last Saturday by protestors who have been agitating against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, were green at the gills after getting seasick. A large number of fishermen had sailed past the Tuticorin coast with a fleet of more than 700 boats in a bid to lay siege to the approach channel of the V.O. Chidambaranar port at Tuticorin. The only way to cover the protest was to jump aboard fishermen’s boats, only the rocking motion of the boats zipping through the waters ended up with 25 mediapersons throwing up their breakfasts. Some were laid flat resting listlessly against fishermen’s nets. Their entreaties to the fishermen to take them back to shore were not listened to because the protestors felt their turning around would have the other protestors’ turning around as well and cause the agitation to fizzle out. 

Heavy Price

Incidentally the year-long agitation has cost the state exchequer Rs 1,446 crore. The government told the Rajya Sabha last month that the expected completion cost of KKNPP Unit 1&2 will be Rs 17,270 crore, as against the original estimate of Rs 13,171 crore. Last December, the government had said that the completion cost of KKNPP 1&2 was Rs 15,824 crore of which Rs 14,122 crore had been spent till September 2011. The Nuclear Power Corporation which is building the plant in collaboration with Atomstroyexport of Russia, had claimed that it was losing Rs five crore per day due to the protests.

As per the original plan, the first unit was to be commissioned in December 2007, then it was revised to mid-2010. This was further revised to September 2011 and that’s when the protests broke out. Now it’s been a year and although the government claims that fuel loading (given clearance by what the PMANE calls the “discredited and the CAG-disparaged” Atomic Energy Regulatory Commission (AERB)) which started on September 19 will be over by the first week of October, and the first unit will be commissioned soon after that, your guess is as good as mine.

Incidentally, according to Atomic Energy Chairman R. K. Sinha, the first unit of 1,000 MW is likely to become operational by next year. “Though I will not be able to give the exact time for commissioning of the project mainly due to the directives of the AERB and the case pending in the Supreme Court, we expect the unit to go operational by the next calendar year,” Sinha said.

The protests, that seemed to have abated in the last few months, have received momentum since word got out about fuel loading. And instead of just a peaceful protest at the coastal village of Idinthakarai near the plant, now protestors have resorted to jal satyagraha, trying to blockade the Tuticorin port.

My question is that when the Prime Minister himself accused NGOs of being funded from abroad, how is it that he has not been able to prove it? It seems irresponsible for him to air his suspicions. The protestors have stuck to their claim that they themselves are underwriting the agitation. Hard to believe they have been able to sustain it although the fishermen, who form a large part of the protestors, have been almost jobless for over a year. There were even allegations that the US is behind the protest because Russian collaboration is involved here. Similarly there were charges that at Jaitapur in Maharashtra, which is being built with French collaboration, the US was backing the protests. Either way, KKNPP continues to be troubled.

It Does Not Rain, It Pours

It would seem that DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi, who has called an emergency meeting of the party on October 1 to discuss arrest of leaders and the alliance with the Congress, cannot catch a break. Things just go from bad to worse for the party. He is part of the UPA government but joined the anti-diesel hike last week with an eye on voters, prompting CM Jayalalitha to accuse him of having double standards. One of the DMK’s union ministers, S. Jagathrakshakan (MoS for Information and Broadcasting) has again come under a cloud after a company his family owns, JR Power Generation Private Limited (JPR), signed a hasty joint venture with the Pondicherry Industrial Promotion Development and Investment Corporation (PIPDIC) which was allocated a coal block. Another union minister, who happens to be his son Azhagiri, is looking at the possible arrest of his son, Dayanidhi Azhagiri, after the court dismissed his application for anticipatory bail this week in the Rs 16,000 crore granite scam. His MPs would love to be inducted in the cabinet reshuffle that is scheduled by PM Manmohan Singh, but in view of the bad karma expected to befall the UPA during Lok Sabha elections, he wants to distance the DMK from the Congress. All his MPs are not happy although cadres have long wanted the DMK to delink from the Congress. He is believed to have declined the offer from the PM to join the cabinet when minister of state in the PMO V Narayanswamy met him on Tuesday.

Sibling Rivalry

Then the DMK is beset by the troubles that the running feud between his sons M. K. Stalin and M. K. Azhagiri has brought on the party. A squabble recently saw a showdown, including fisticuffs, between supporters of the brothers in Madurai. While Karunanidhi has been circumspect about the shadow boxing between his sons, the Madurai incident was the last straw. He called a “conciliatory” meeting last week between the warring groups and urged them to “do away with the fog that has engulfed (Madurai unit), paving the way for the Rising Sun (which is his party symbol) with renewed force”. In yet another signal to his sons (he recently praised the youth wing that Stalin heads, indicating his preference of his successor), he said, “Whatever the decisions taken are by the high command. Azhagiri and Stalin are not different. Both are DMK (members). Both have dedicated themselves to DMK.”

We are Family

Now again a member of his family faces arrest after the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court dismissed anticipatory bail applications of Durai alias Dayanidhi Alagiri and a few others allegedly involved in the Rs 16,000 crore granite quarry scam. All of last year, the patriarch was distressed after his daughter and Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi spent six months in Tihar jail after being named an accused by the CBI in the 2G scam.

On August 7, Dhayanidhi was named as one of 10 accused connected with companies mining sand and granite illegally. One of the 18 teams constituted by Madurai Collector Anshul Mishra last month to inspect all the 175 granite quarries in the district, found that Olympus Granites of which Dayanidhi Azhagiri is a director, had quarried only 468.243 cubic metres from the land it had leased but had transported 2,292.814 cubic metres. With the market value of multi-coloured granite being Rs 30,000/cubic metre, the prosecution claimed that Olympus Granites had illegally gained Rs. 44 crore. The police are on the lookout for him.

Another member of Karunanidhi’s family—Jyothimani, son-in law of DMK chief’s daughter, Selvi— last week sought anticipatory bail, as a sequel to a complaint filed a year ago by one Nedumaran , alleging that Jyothimani had not given him possession of a property at Thalambur near Sholinganallur despite receiving an advance of 3.5 crore. Although Jyotimani has refuted the allegations saying he had returned Rs 4.25 crore to Nedumaran, as reflected in bank statements, his apprehension of an arrest is what prompted the bail application.