BJP Rajya Sabha member C.M. Ramesh addresses the media in Visakhapatnam on March 12, 2024.
| Photo Credit: The Hindu

One of the companies founded by BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP from Andhra Pradesh, C.M. Ramesh, that bagged the Engineering, Procurement and Construction contract to build the 382-MW Sunni hydro-electric project, bought electoral bonds worth ₹5 crore weeks after it was awarded the ₹1,098 crore project. This tranche was purchased just ahead of the Assembly elections in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland.

Rithwik Projects Private Limited (RPPL), a private, unlisted company incorporated in Hyderabad on March 31, 1999, was awarded the EPC contract on January 14, 2023, just days after another project that it was involved in – the Tapovan Vishnugad Hydro-electric Project in Uttarakhand — ran into rough weather following the collapse of roads and homes at Josimath, a town located close to the project site. Townspeople and some experts blamed the underground tunnelling at an ecologically sensitive site for Josimath’s gradual subsidence, aside from several other reasons.

Purchases in two tranches

Days after the news dominated national media, and less than two weeks after being awarded the Sunni Dam contract, RPPL purchased five bonds of ₹1 crore each on January 27, 2023. Rithwik Projects purchased another tranche of 40 bonds on April 11, 2023 worth ₹40 crore. This was just ahead of the Karnataka Assembly elections.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) approved the ₹2,614 crore Sunni Dam Hydro Electric Project on January 4, 2023, and Rithwik Projects was awarded the construction contract 10 days later.

RPPL describes itself as a “leading construction and infrastructure development company …(that) has achieved significant progress in the building of hydropower projects, concrete dams, spillways, solar projects, tunnels, irrigation canals, bridges, highways, and housing colonies all around the country.”

Protests against Sunni Dam

The Sunni Dam is a run-of-the-river HEP being constructed on the Sutlej River spread across Shimla and Mandi districts of HP. Locals from the affected villages have been protesting against shoddy land compensation values, the non-implementation of the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, debris from the project site falling much beyond the designated 900-metre radius for which crop loss compensation has been earmarked, and for not adequately providing jobs at the site for locals.

Protests that began in December 2023 have intensified over the past months with more than 1,000 landowners who lost their lands partly or entirely deciding to join calls for nationwide farmers’ protests if their demands were not met.

Not without controversy

Mr. Ramesh is a second-time BJP Rajya Sabha MP. He announced that he has sought the party “high command’s” approval to contest the Lok Sabha elections from Visakhapatnam, following the announcement of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Jana Sena Party (JSP) and BJP alliance for the upcoming Assembly and Parliamentary polls.

He was associated with the TDP until 2019 and was the party’s Rajya Sabha MP from Telangana between 2014 and 2018. Mr. Ramesh was a close aide of Andhra’s former Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu and his company has bagged several flagship irrigation and construction projects across the State. His son Rithwik Ramesh is “President Operations” at RPPL, among other family members, as part of the company’s board.

Mr. Ramesh has not been without his fair share of controversy while a member of the TDP. In 2009, Y.S. Vijayalaksmi, wife of the late Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajashekhar Reddy petitioned the Andhra Pradesh High Court seeking a CBI inquiry into how a government sub-contractor whose company’s revenue was ₹61 crore in 2003, rose to ₹488 crore in 2009. The court dismissed the petition as politically motivated.

In October 2018, when Mr. Ramesh was still a TDP MP, the Indian Express reported that the Income Tax Department and Enforcement Directorate conducted raids on his home in Kadapa and RPPL’s office premises in Hyderabad for transactions worth ₹100 crore. RPPL allegedly siphoned ₹74 crore through “untraceable transactions”, and another ₹24 crore were allegedly “dubious”. Months later, in June 2019 Mr. Ramesh joined the BJP.

(With inputs from N. Ravikumar)

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