A Ganesh Nadar reports on the Jayalalitha government's crackdown on land grabbing in Tamil Nadu. Many of the accused are DMK leaders, including former ministers and MLAs. The first of a three-part series:
During the assembly election campaign in Tamil Nadu this summer, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader J Jayalalithaa promised action against the then ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam cadres's strong-arm tactics in the state.
After the AIADMK was voted to power, one of the first things Chief Minister J Jayalalitha initiated action against powerful individuals who had illegally grabbed land that belonged to others.
As many as 8,947 complaints of land grabbing were filed across the state. So far only 462 First Information Reports have been registered. The police say many complaints have been received without documents and hence, the cases could not be registered. Many cases, the police said, were civil disputes and the complainants were asked to approach the civil courts for redress.
Anti-land grabbing cells have now been formed in every district's police department. The state government has promised to set up special courts to try these cases in 25 districts; very few cases have been filed in Tamil Nadu's seven other districts.
The government also suggested that those accused in many cases will be booked under the Goondas Act so that they cannot secure bail for a year.
The DMK has told its lawyers wing to help its arrested cadres. The lawyers' wing says apart from fighting the cases in court it will petition the National Human Rights Commission, the chief justice of the Madras high court and the Chief Justice of India, insisting that false cases are being foisted against its party leaders for political vendetta.
Four former DMK ministers have been arrested so far: K N Nehru, K Pondmudi, N K K P Raja and Veerapandi S Arumugam. J Anbazhagan and Soundrapandian, both MLAs, have also been arrested.
In Tiruchi, the deputy mayor has been arrested. In Tirunelveli, DMK District Secretary Karupassamy Pandian has been arrested. Numerous councillors and other DMK party functionaries have been arrested on land grabbing charges.
Two former ministers -- N Suresh Rajan and Parithi Ilamvazhuthi -- have obtained anticipatory bail since they have been named in land grabbing petitions.
In the Tamil Nadu assembly, AIADMK MLAs have alleged that a portion of the open space at the DMK headquarters in Thenampettai, Chennai, belongs to the Chennai Municipal Corporation. They allege that a portion of former chief minister and DMK President M Karunanidhi's home in Gopalapuram, Chennai, also belonged to the municipal corporation.
So far 421 people have been arrested in connection with land grab cases. The DMK claims that 92 party cadres have been arrested.
In Madurai, Union Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister M K Alagiri visited party activists, arrested on charges of land grabbing, in prison. His younger brother, former deputy chief minister M K Stalin, regularly visits party activists in jails across the state.
DMK MLAs in Tamil Nadu have petitioned Tamil Nadu's new Governor K Rosaiah that its party cadres are being falsely implicated in land grab cases and put in jail.
In Delhi, DMK MPs handed over a similar petition to President Pratibha Patil. They have alleged political vendetta after the party lost power in the April 2011 election.
In some cases, the land has been returned to the complainants. The government says it has returned land worth Rs 415 crore (Rs 4.5 billion) so far to the original owners.
After the police conclude their inquiries and file charge-sheets the matter will come up before the special district courts, which are proposed to be set up to deal with land grabbing cases.
Do the people of Tamil Nadu think the land grabbing cases and arrests are the outcome of Jayalalitha's political vendetta? Or do they think that the DMK leaders and activists are guilty of grabbing land from individuals helpless to resist their power?
An answer may well be available after the panchayat and municipal elections in October.