Jayalalitha acts tough, goes after the DMK land sharks
It’s not for nothing that Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalitha is known as the ‘Iron Lady.’
Whenever she is in power, she is known to have initiated strong action, especially against her political opponents. Having returned as the chief minister for the third term last May on an unprecedented mandate, Jayalalitha has begun to use the big broom to clean the Augean’s Stables of the previous DMK regime, which enjoyed power for a decade.
One of the first things she has done on assuming power is to launch an anti land grab drive in Tamil Nadu, as there were several complaints of politically influential persons indulging in a land grab spree, dispossessing ordinary people. They were largely from the urban middle and lower middle classes, whose life-long savings had either gone into a plot of land or house, or those who held family-inherited properties.
Ever since the drive was launched, the government has been flooded with nearly 2,500 cases and many of them involving DMK party men. From ordinary local body councilors to key area DMK functionaries to the party’s district bigwigs and the former ministers to close kin of the DMK’s first family, the accusing finger is now sparing none. After Jayalalitha assumed office, previously ignored complaints have come alive as she took the first steps to fulfill a key promise made in the AIADMK’s poll manifesto.
‘Special Cells’ in all the 30 district police headquarters overseen by a master cell at the state police headquarters in Chennai, were quickly set up by the ‘Amma’, to exclusively receive and investigate land-grab complaints. These, the people are hoping would ensure a course correction, to restore the illegally encroached lands or properties to their legitimate/rightful owners.
State finance minister O Pannerselvam recently told the state Assembly that since May-end 2011 to the first week of August, “2491 complaints have been received...We will continue to take stringent action against such land grabbers. The affected people may rest assured that they will get back their lost properties,” he said to drive home Amma’s commitment to this praxis.
The special cell has opened the doors for the aggrieved including women and the aged to uninhibitedly file complaints against even the high and mighty in the DMK. “The construction boom amid rapid urbanisation, creation of land banks for attracting new industries, and DMK’s political clout at the Centre emboldened the local DMK men to go for a killing,” said an informed source.
Big fish in the net
Former agriculture minister and DMK’s Salem district strongman, Veerapandi S Arumugam, had just got a conditional bail from the Madras high court. Even as he had come to sign at a Salem police station to comply with his bail conditions in two land-grab cases, the Salem crime branch police arrested him in a third case and lodged him in Coimbatore jail.
That was on a complaint by one Bala Mohan Raj, that Veerapandi Arumugam had arm-twisted him in 2007 to sell his 20,460 sq ft land at Nilavarapatti near Salem, at well below the then prevailing market price.
Another former DMK minister N K K P Raja was arrested at Erode for allegedly taking possession of two acres of prime land (its current value is Rs 6 crore), near Perundurai by forcing its occupants to sign on the dotted line after which his goons barged in and “felled 80 coconut trees in the land and levelled the site using earth movers.” The land was later sold to a Raja’s aide.
If the DMK’s south Chennai district chief and MLA, J Anbazhagan was arrested on charges of “forcibly transferring the ownership of a paper mill” in Tiruppur, film star ‘Kutti’ Padmini charged DMK’s Tiruvallur district secretary, Sivaji, with intruding into her orchard. Other former DMK ministers, some of whom have got anticipatory bails, like K N Nehru (Tiruchi), I Periyasamy (Dindigul), and Paruthi Ilamvazhuthi, face similar charges.
In Madurai, home to DMK strongman and Union chemicals and fertilizers minister M K Azhagiri, a temple priest, Subramanya Iyer, directly complained to the chief minister’s cell that the minister’s wife, Kanthi Azhagiri, ingeniously ‘usurped’ several acres of the temple land, now valued at a whopping Rs 25 crore. Alagiri has strongly refuted the charges, saying it was an attempt to tarnish his reputation.
As this list gets longer by each day, the latest arrest is that of the high-profile ‘lottery King’, Santiago Martin, for illegally grabbing 2000 sq ft of land in Salem. His career graph had soared in recent years from a humble lottery ticket seller on the streets of Coimbatore, to a big multi-state lottery dealer, real estate developer and film producer.
Martin’s assets are now estimated to at about Rs 7,000 crore, even as his close proximity to the previous M Karunanidhi-led DMK regime is well known. Seething with anger, the DMK’s general council in Coimbatore, while bracing up for a big legal fight, assailed Jayalalitha’s crack-down as “being pursued with political vendetta to destroy the DMK.”
“They are converting false complaints and civil disputes into criminal cases, while the police turn the other way to land-grab complaints against AIADMK biggies,” fumed A S Bharathi, DMK’s legal wing secretary. R Thamraiselvan, an ADMK MP, has moved the Madras high court challenging the government’s order on the formation of anti-land grab cells in each police district headquarters. But the Jayalalitha government is going ahead with setting up of 25 ‘special courts’ for speedy trial of land-grab cases.