Chennai: Under attack from various AIADMK quarters on a variety of issues, DMK president M K Stalin has now hit back accusing the government of high corruption in not collecting Rs 2,081 crore as the rental arrears from year 2000 from the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA), despite the regime badly needing funds to deliver on public welfare schemes.
"It is said that the TN government is negotiating (with the TNCA) to bring down the rental dues from Rs 2,081 crore pointed out by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), to settle for a mere Rs 250 crore. If the state cabinet has taken such a decision, such a Government Order (GO) should be withheld", said Stalin, taking to twitter.
"For whose benefit is this decision taken to slash down the rental dues at a time when there is no money even to carry out the welfare schemes for the people? Does not the AIADMK Government know anything other than commission, corruption, collection, deals?"asked Stalin.
The tweets, needless to say, quickly got a flood of responses from the twitteratti, with most of them supporting his anguish at the government sleeping over such huge rental arrears, from year 2000 till now.
A few on social media also pointed out to the DMK chief that his party too was in power for some years during this period—1996-2001, 2006-2011—and conveniently slept over the issue.
The CAG figure of Rs 2,081 was only for the period from 2000 to 2015, when the lease had expired and required extension after collecting the arrears and fixing the future lease rentals.
“The lease rent for the remaining 15 years was, however, not fixed by the government of Tamil Nadu. Scrutiny of records revealed that the lease rent had neither been fixed nor collected from the TNCA and MCC for the period from 2000 to 2015, due to delaying tactics adopted by the government (Revenue Department),” the CAG report had stated in 2017.
It has been reported that the TNCA, and the MCC (Madras Cricket Club) that occupies a portion of the stadium in the area adjacent to the cricket field and has other sports/club activities including a well-appointed bar, have disputed the figure of Rs 2,081 crore and the ball rested for years in the TN government's court, with the Revenue Secretary to be precise. It is said that at one point of time, the IAS babu referred the issue of fixing a fair rent to an expert committee and nothing much happened after that.
The TNCA/MCC held the view that they could not pay the lease rent because the government did not fix the rate after the expiry of the lease in April 2015; but then, even earlier the ball moved real slow between the government on the one side and the TNCA/MCC on the other side - the government at one point of time (April 2014) saying it should be Rs 1,834.78 crore and the other side retorting they might as well own the place instead of leasing it out. They said the dues could not exceed Rs.500 crore. In the meanwhile, the CAG added Rs 246.3 crore for another 20 months to the outstanding sum and bringing it to Rs 2081 crore - for the period 2000-2015. It could be much more now.
“Is it possible that a government has forgotten to collect its rent worth hundreds of crores for 15 years? Or is it a case of the political-bureaucratic-business nexus depriving a fund-starved state - where farmers are losing their lives - of its legitimate revenue?" wrote noted journalist N R Mohanty, Director, JIMMC, a media education centre at Noida, soon after the CAG report popped up in 2017. Nothing much seems to have changed since then, or perhaps it did, going by Stalin’s tweet now.
“It is no surprise that the TNCA and MCC could get away not paying the lease dues, considering that the former doles out huge number of VIP passes during international matches, for choice seats with super view of the pitch, to the IAS babus and senior police officers to come with their families. The total capacity of the stadium is about 40,000 and of this, close to 12,500 seats are vacant because the I.J and K stands have been sealed since the Jayalalithaa regime due to some ego issue between the then top bureaucracy and the TNCA. And the babus and top cops swallow a good chunk of the remaining seats in choice stands,” said a TNCA insider.
“Many of the babus are members of the MCC and that’s why you will find the bar serving liquor though the lease has not been extended since 2015. And you will find these babus on their brisk morning and evening walks in the Chepauk stadium outfield,” added the TNCA insider. Another source said Stalin's tweet of caution could have valid reason as there are now reports that TNCA is negotiating with the government to allow it to pay up the lease dues by drastically bringing down the amount and in the bargain, also get the permission to open up the stands I, J and K, “in time for the India-West Indies one-dayer in mid-December.”
Chidambaram stadium best maintained cricket facility
One must say that the MA Chidambaram Stadium is the best maintained cricket facility in the country, despite the sealed I, J, K stands stuck in dilapidated state for long. There are luxurious air-conditioned boxes for high-ticketed use (which invariably get picked by corporates, plus complimentary passes for the babus and top-cops), clean staircases and corridors, adequate number of clean toilets and eateries. Besides, the Chepauk Stadium has a rich history, having hosted the country's first-ever Test win-against England in 1952. Of the two tied Tests ever played in cricket history, one happened here (India Vs Australia, 1986) while the first was in Australia.
Three empty stands an eyesore on TV
The cricket-crazy Chennaiites do lose 'heavily' on big-ticket events because of the sealing of the three stands in the long-drawn tussle between the TNCA and the government, as the BCCI stopped allocating such matches to Chepauk. For instance, Chennai was supposed to host the IPL final in 2019 but the match was moved to Hyderabad because it was felt, and rightly so, that three empty stands were an eyesore on TV and a drain on precious resources.