Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Charges of Corruption and Human Sacrifice Destroy Indian Granite Empire


In this strange, but apparently true story, new allegations against the largest granite exporter in India, PRP Granites, brings to light why it is important to consider the source of your slabs. Even though the price may be the lowest and the quality  top notch, the success of the exporter may be resting on fraudulent activity, local scams and, believe it or not, even human sacrifice rituals.
In the 1990s, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu a  general contractor, PR Palanichamy, quickly rose to become the largest granite mogul in the country. Early in the decade, Palanichamy bought several acres of land rich in pink-hued granite, and he started his company in the town of Melur.
Western nations began to impose strict regulations on granite quarrying only a few years later. This caused domestic production to fall as fabricators sought cheap, quality imports. Palanichamy was able to make a few large deals very early on, and only two decades later, his company was mining 35,000 acres across the state, and his net worth had risen to more than $3 billion.
For the last five years, Palanichamy has been investigated by the highest legal authorities in India after rumors of corruption and shady business practices were disclosed by former associates and employees. At the peak of the investigation, in August 2012, Palanichamy and his two sons were allegedly among 23 people operating four granite firms arrested for illegal quarrying.
The investigation continued and authorities uncovered what would be called one of the largest scams of modern India. Police had identified 18 mining barons, arrested 40 people, issued warrants for 12 others and seized thousands in cash and 72 vehicles. In addition, all granite exports in India were halted, 12 revenue officials were suspended and 40 other government officials were investigated.
From 1978 to 1992, the state held a monopoly in the granite industry under the blanket of Tamil Nadu Minerals Limited (TAMIN). When TAMIN was dissolved, its land was leased and licenses for mining were issued to about 175 private companies. According to the public record, 94 of these companies have been accused of violating licensing terms and 51 others were accused of major violations, such as land encroachment.
“We have deployed 200 government officials and 100 police personnel for the job,” District Collector Anshul Mishra was quoted as saying. “All the quarry owners have illegally mined granite blocks over and above the permitted quantity. They mined public roads and private lands without the consent of the owners and have grabbed land at will.”
“Our investigations in Madurai district reveal that 70 percent of violations were committed by PRP Granites Exports Ltd”, Mishra added.
As Palanichimay’s business grew throughout the past 20 years, he and his accomplices are said to have lived life to the fullest. They reportedly wielded social and political power in a mafia-like fashion and held vast sums of money. But, on the surface everything seemed legitimate. Palanichimay was awarded as the country’s top granite exporter by the Chemical and Allied Export Promotion Council of India (CAPEXIL) eight times and by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry twice.
Anonymous police sources said that PRP Granites had been distributing “gifts” to several government officials in amount of up to $7,700 per month. Officials at all levels allegedly enjoyed these benefits in exchange for turning a blind eye to violations of exporting laws.
A few people had uncovered the scam in recent years but were quickly silenced. S. Manimaran, editor of the local newspaper Dina Bhoomi, published several articles about unclaimed granite exports. Shortly afterward, Manimaran and his son were arrested on several charges, including wrongful restraint, causing fear of death, extortion, robbery and committing obscene acts in public. The arrest was made after a complaint was issued by the president of the Madurai Granite Quarry Owner’s Association. The journalists were released on bail the following day after a public outcry by other media outlets, and charges were later discovered to be unfounded.
After the elections of 2011 instilled a new General Assembly, District Collector U. Sagayam began an official investigation into illegal mining, and he submitted a 13-page report detailing all of the violations he discovered. Five days later, he was turned away while boarding a flight back to Madurai, being told that he had been transferred to a different region. However, Sagayam’s report had already leaked to the media, and his successor reopened the investigation.
2C99620B00000578-3240277-image-a-1_1442837489285It would seem that this story would work its way through the courts without much more to be said, and it was summed up nicely in India’s national magazine Frontline. Some charges would stick, others would not – fines would be paid, jail-time imposed and stricter oversight of granite exports would begin. However, the story took a strange, new twist just last month. News agencies around the world, including NDTV, The News Minute, The Indian Express and even the Daily Mail have reported that Palanichamy is now being investigated for murder after claims that ritual human sacrifices were being performed in the PRP Granites boardroom. Yes, you read that correctly – human sacrifices in the boardroom.
Sevarkodiyan had been a truck driver for PRP Granites from 1998 to 2003, and he revealed his reason for leaving in 2004 when he told local police that he had witnessed multiple murders at the company’s headquarters. The allegations seemed unsubstantiated at the time, but as Sagayam continued his investigation, the bodies of four to seven people (reports vary) and miscellaneous bone fragments were uncovered from one of Palanichamy’s quarries.
Sevarkodiyan tells a shocking story that seems barely believable in the modern world, and even more unbelievable among those in the granite industry. As a driver, he says that he was asked to go out to the city streets looking for mentally impaired or other vulnerable people. He was allegedly told that they would be rehabilitated as a public service, and he believed them until he reportedly witnessed the unthinkable.
He said that one night he saw the bodies of two men being dragged out to a riverbank where they were buried. “Their throats were slit, and they were buried,” said Sevarkodiyan. “I soon realized that it was a human sacrifice and that they had done it before an idol.”
Sevarkodiyan states that he was asked to find and pick up mentally ill people whenever he would go out to inspect a location for a new quarry. According to his statement, he never forced anyone into the vehicle, and they simply held their hand and let them inside. He said that they immediately fed them good food and let them eat as much as they wanted. When they got back to the company headquarters, the people were locked in a room for several days, according to him.
He went on to state that one night as he was crossing a dry riverbed to reach the headquarters, he met a supervisor driving a Jeep. In the back were two of the men he had picked up about a month earlier, and their throats had been cut. He said he continued to watch from a distance as the bodies were buried with the help of a bulldozer.
Police confirmed that several bodies had been found at the site named by Sevarkodiyan. They said the bodies were tied with coconuts in a ritualistic fashion. They are also investigating the role of a Hindu Godman, an Indian term for a charismatic religious leader, who allegedly presided over the human sacrifices.
Verrpan Manoharan, the lawyer for PRP Granites, replied to the charges saying that they are completely false and that Sevarkodiyan is just a bitter ex-employee.

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