CHENNAI: In a major crackdown, the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) on Thursday booked AV Venkatachalam, chairman of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), on charges of “criminal misconduct” and “criminal misappropriation”. Venkatachalam is scheduled to retire from the post on September 27.
The agency also launched a search at five places, including the TNPCB office at Guindy in Chennai, and Venkatachalam’s residences in Chennai and Salem. Net cash of `13.5 lakh, gold jewellery weighing 6.5 kg (worth `2.5 crore), and documents relevant to the case were identified, said the agency, adding that these would be seized. “Around 10kg of sandalwood articles and pieces were identified at his residence,” a DVAC statement said. The raid at his Salem house lasted for over six hours.
The statement alleged the official, conferred with the Indian Forest Service (IFS) title in 1994, was involved in criminal misconduct and misappropriation while holding the posts of member secretary, TNPCB (October 14, 2013 to July 29, 2014), member secretary, State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (2017-18) and, after retirement, chairman of TNPCB (since September 27, 2019). He was booked under sections of The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
According to the First Information Report (FIR), the official had abused his position by colluding with other officials in committing the crimes, thereby causing loss to the government and also a “proportionate undue enrichment to himself”. The DVAC said it has requested forest officials to take necessary action and added the search will continue. Sources said several complaints were lodged by applicants seeking permission to establish and operate entities.
FIR says Venkatachalam issued CTO to plant despite violations
Quoting allegations in the complaints, sources said the official was accused of “seeking monetary benefits” for issuing ‘Consent to Establish’ (CTE ) and ‘Consent to Operate’ (CTO) documents and during their renewals. Some complainants had also accused him of causing “unjustifiable delay” in granting permissions for the want of “illegal gratification”.
According to the FIR, the official in his powers as the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) chairman is alleged to have dishonestly issued CTO order in favour of SEPC Power Private Limited, Thoothukudi, even though there were clear environmental violations. Earlier, due to non-fulfilment of CTE conditions, the TNPCB had issued a ‘stop construction’ order to Spic Electric Power Corporation (SEPC) power plant.
He also wrongfully induced and prevented his subordinates from taking action against environmental violations, and colluded with other TN PCB officials in committing irregularities in direct recruitment of a few unqualified candidates for filling up vacancies, the FIR added. Additionally, as a member-secretary at the TNPCB, Venkatachalam is said to have forced industries to purchase tree-guards at higher prices from specific private manufacturing firms associated with him.
The FIR further stated, as Joint MD of the Tamil Nadu Forest Plantation Corporation Limited, Tiruchy in 2017, he, along with other officials, committed serious irregularities in conducting auctions of generators, boilers, logistics equipment, etc, belonging to Tamil Nadu Forest Plantation Corporation Limited, thereby causing loss to the government to the tune of Rs 47 lakh.
As ex-officio member secretary of SEIAA, Venkatachalam is also alleged to have abused his official position by forcing industries to apply for Environment Clearance (EC) to pay bribes, ranging from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 15 lakh, depending on industry size (particularly in construction and mining).
Sources said Venkatachalam was accused of “seeking monetary benefits” for issuing ‘Consent to Establish’ and ‘Consent to Operate’ documents