The Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) in Chennai has initiated legal action against three builders—T Udhayakumar, Sunil Khetpalia, and Maneesh Parmar—for purportedly bribing government officials and elected representatives to secure clearances for a multi-storey housing complex project in a prominent landmark, a British-era textile mill. The FIR, registered after an 8-year delay, accuses the builders of collectively offering over Rs 50 crore in bribes between 2015 and 2017.
The investigation, prompted by a complaint filed by Rajiv Naidu in 2017, followed court directives and unearthed alleged corruption involving officials from multiple departments. The DVAC conducted searches on February 1st at various locations in Chennai to gather evidence related to the bribery charges. Naidu, who had previously initiated legal proceedings against Landmark Housing Projects in 2017, had approached the Madras High Court and lodged petitions against the firm.
The petitioner’s legal actions implicated T Udhayakumar, the managing director of Landmark Housing Projects, and directors Sunil Khetpalia and Maneesh Parmar of KLP Projects Private Limited. Udhayakumar’s submission of documents and a sworn statement to the High Court and the Income Tax department disclosed alleged cash payments exceeding Rs. 50 crores to various public servants.
The court, acting on Naidu’s plea, directed the DVAC to conduct a preliminary inquiry in 2018, which concluded in 2019. Udhayakumar’s sworn statement, recorded by the Income Tax (IT) department, was handed over to DVAC officials on March 23, 2020, a day before the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown commenced.
According to Udhayakumar, the alleged bribes facilitated the removal of encroachments near a 14.16-acre plot of land acquired from Binny Limited, a historic textile mill in Chennai. The mill, established in the 1860s as Buckingham and Carnatic Mills, played a pivotal role in the region’s industrialization but ceased operations in 1996 due to labor disputes.
The Binny Mills site, spread over 63 acres in Perambur, has attracted interest for redevelopment into a massive integrated township. Previous attempts to revive the mill were unsuccessful, leading to its sale. SRP Tools was rumored to be a contender for purchasing the property, which was also a popular location for film shoots.
In 2017, the historic Binny Limited headquarters on Armenian Street in Parry’s was demolished, despite being listed as a heritage building by the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA). This demolition highlighted the ongoing transformation of the site and its surrounding areas.
The new owners of the Binny Mills property aimed to construct multi-storey apartments and commercial hubs, requiring approvals from the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA). Allegations surfaced that clearance was initially denied in 2015 but granted after substantial payments, allegedly totaling crores, were made to CMDA officials, including ministers.
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The Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) has filed a First Information Report (FIR) against builders T Udhayakumar, Sunil Khetpalia, and Maneesh Parmar, accusing them of bribery in connection with a multi-storey housing complex project at the historical Binny Mills site in Chennai. Udhayakumar’s statement before the Income Tax department, made during an investigation, revealed that the builders purchased 14.16 acres of land from M/s.Binny Limited in 2015 for Rs. 370 crore.
The FIR alleges that Udhayakumar, Sunil, and Maneesh paid bribes totaling over Rs 50 crores to government officials, elected representatives, and various departments to secure clearances for the construction of multi-storey apartments. The payments were reportedly made in cash to address challenges such as encroachments, narrow roads, and difficulties obtaining approvals from the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA).
Udhayakumar detailed unaccounted expenses incurred to navigate these challenges, including payments to government officials, public servants, and representatives. As per his list, approximately Rs. 3 crore was paid to people’s representatives, and Rs. 16 crore was allocated for government departments, with Rs. 9 crore earmarked as CMDA expenses. The payments reportedly included amounts to officials from Metro Water, Electricity Board, and for the development of a wider road as a proper approach.
Critics on social media have posted allegations based on the FIR, claiming that AIADMK MP Balaganga received Rs. 23 lakh, DMK cadre Jawahar received Rs. 33 lakh, another DMK cadre received Rs. 10 lakh, former MLA Neelakandan received Rs. 40 lakh, and MP Venkatesan received Rs. 20 lakh. Additionally, a parliamentarian referred by a mayor allegedly received Rs. 16.7 crore, former councillor Saroja received Rs. 2 lakh, and PKS from DMK received Rs. 10,00,000.
The FIR is said to contain details of bribes paid to CMDA Minister and VCK chief Thol Thirumavalavan. However, critics have accused DVAC of attempting to close the FIR before the Enforcement Directorate (ED) initiates its probe, which is reportedly already underway. Concerns have been raised about the government’s apparent reluctance to name officials in the FIR despite detailed information provided by the bribe giver to the Income Tax department.
Last year, a Madras High Court judge, Anand Venkatesn, commented on DVAC, stating, “DVAC has, unfortunately, become a chameleon. It takes the colours of the party which rules the State.” The decision not to name officials in the FIR has raised questions about the independence of the anti-corruption body and its perceived alignment with the ruling establishment.
Critics argue that the move reflects a reluctance to antagonise powerful officials who may have facilitated corrupt practices in the past. The FIR has brought attention to the challenges in addressing corruption within the bureaucracy and highlights the need for a robust and impartial anti-corruption framework to ensure accountability and transparency in governance.