It was reported by the Indian media last Wed (21 Oct) that Singapore High Commissioner to India, Simon Wong Wie Kuen, flew from Delhi to Chennai for a series of meetings with Tamil Nadu officials including the state’s chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami despite the health risks posed by the current COVID-19 pandemic in India.
Wong revealed that between 2018 and now, Singapore has, in fact, invested about $1 billion in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. He also told Indian media that the relevant agencies in Singapore will be reaching out to the Indian authorities for discussions regarding India’s travel bubble proposal to establish travel between both countries.
“India is an important partner for Singapore and the strong air connectivity between our countries prior to the pandemic had been critical to driving the flow of trade and investment, and people-to-people exchanges,” Wong added.
And to signal that Tamil Nadu is the preferred State for Singaporean investments to go to, Wong was willing to sacrifice his personal health to fly to Chennai, the state capital of Tamil Nadu. He said, “That is also the main reason why, despite COVID, we are making a trip from Delhi to Chennai. This is my first stop. And I feel that we need to, despite the health risks, we want to signal to the Tamil Nadu government that we take our partners very, very seriously. And we will also want to signal to our Singaporean investments that this is the preferred State to put their money in.”
Tamil Nadu has been reported to be the 3rd most corrupt state among India’s 28 states and 8 union territories, according to the Centre for Media Studies (CMS) in India. A CMS’s 2017 study has pointed out that 68 percent of respondents in Tamil Nadu felt that they had trouble accessing public services due to corruption. Mr Jayaraman, the coordinator of Arappor Iyakkam – an organisation that has been fighting graft – said, “There is a lot of centralised corruption. It’s there right at the top (in Tamil Nadu).”
In fact, it was reported in 2017 that South Korean Kia Motors decided to build its auto factory in the state of Andhra Pradesh after Tamil Nadu politicians allegedly demanded huge bribes from Kia (‘High Commissioner wants SG to invest in “preferred” state of Tamil Nadu when Kia pulls out‘).
Relatives of Chief Minister awarded with multiple public highway contracts
The current Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Edappadi K. Palaniswami, was himself caught up in a controversy 2 years ago.
In Jun 2018, a complaint was lodged with Tamil Nadu’s Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) alleging corruption in the allocation of some highway project contracts to various firms owned by relatives of the Chief Minister Palaniswami.
DVAC was set up by the state government of Tamil Nadu to tackle corruption in public administration. It comes under the administrative control of the Government in Personnel and Administrative Reforms Department of Tamil Nadu. It has the powers to seek any information from any departments or public officials in the state on matters within its jurisdiction.
According to the filed complaint, one of the highway contracts was awarded to Ramalingam & Co, a firm allegedly owned by a relative of the Chief Minister. The complaint reads, “One Mr. Chandrakanth Ramalingam, son of Mr.Ramalingam is one of the Directors in this firm, apart from his father and sisters. Edappadi Palanisamy’s son Mithun Kumar is married to one Divya. Divya has a sister by name Saranya. Saranya’s husband’s brother is the said Chandrakanth Ramalingam. In other words, Edappadi Palanisamy, being CM & Minister for Highways has awarded a contract worth 1515 crores to a firm owned by his son Mithun’s brother-in-law.”
Another highway contract was awarded to Venkatachalapathy Constructions, a firm said to be owned by P Subramaniam, the father-in-law of the Chief Minister’s son. Both projects were reportedly been funded by the World Bank. The 3rd highway contract was awarded to Sri Balaji Toll Ways Private Limited. “P.Subramaniam, (in-law of Edappadi Palanisamy), P.Nagarajan and J.Sekar @ Sekar Reddy are the Directors of this firm,” the complaint reads.
It was also alleged that the maintenance of of all State Highways in several districts of Tamil Nadu had been awarded to SPK & Company Expressway and the work was subsequently sub-contracted to the firm owned by the father-in-law of the Chief Minister’s son.
The complaint further stated, “The above contracts have been awarded to these two firms at an inflated rate thereby causing undue pecuniary advantage to them only because the two firms are controlled by persons who are closely related to Shri Edapadi Palanisami’s son Mithun. The modus it appears have to eliminate and dissuade all eligible contractors from participating in the bid by adopting intimidating tactics. The provisions of the Transparency of Tenders Act,1998 and its rules have been violated with impunity. In fact, it is reliably learnt that Mr R Ramalingam and Mr P Sutharma who are close relatives of the Chief Minister have been awarded several contracts amounting to several crores of rupees for the past seven years and in most of the bids there were only 2 bidders. This is not mere coincidence and needs a thorough investigation.”
Palaniswami himself served as the Minister for Public Works, Highways and Minor Ports until his elevation to the post of Chief Minister in February 2017. But he continues to take charge of the Ministry as Chief Minister.
In Oct 2018, DVAC, which is under the control of the Tamil Nadu State, said that no cognizable offence was made out against the Chief Minister and no irregularities were noticed in the award of contracts for the six major highway projects in the state.