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In September of 2002, the then Chennai commissioner of police K Vijayakumar got a letter by post. A resident of Chennai had written to him about her family problems. She had said that her auto driver husband spent nearly all his earnings buying lottery tickets. He gave little for family expenses. She said she and her children will have to commit suicide if things continued.

Investigation by police intelligence yielded shocking discoveries. Across the state, various lottery tickets bearing the names of north-east states were announcing prize money results nearly every hour every day. As a result, these lottery tickets were in much demand. Those who believed entirely in luck and fortune lapped up these tickets hoping or rather yearning that one day they would hit the jackpot. But nearly no one won anything substantial and almost all buyers lost a great portion of their precious earnings. Many families were destroyed as a result since lottery ticket buyers took home little of their daily wages.

Meanwhile, some elements in city police that were hand-in-glove with lottery operators tried to orchestrate an impression that CCB police will have to face contempt of court proceedings because of the court stay.

After reading the intelligence report, the commissioner asked me to conduct a thorough investigation and take action. I was serving as deputy commissioner of Central Crime Branch (CCB), Chennai, at that time. Investigators at CCB told me some important information regarding this issue before I started work. Key persons in lottery ticket operation had obtained an interim stay at the Madras high court against police investigation into lottery ticket sales. The police had not properly pursued the case to get the stay vacated. I learned that many city police officials wanted the stay to continue.

We at CCB analysed all the legal angles and prepared a plan to raid illegal lottery vendors in secret on a certain date. That raid unearthed many violations of rules in selling of lottery tickets and hundreds of people were arrested. Many such lottery tickets were seized.

Meanwhile, some elements in city police that were hand-in-glove with lottery operators tried to orchestrate an impression that CCB police will have to face contempt of court proceedings because of the court stay. But the court had ordered a stay only against investigation into irregularities in observing lottery rules and regulations but not against investigation and action under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Therefore, those arrested were charged under IPC and remanded to judicial custody. The court did not criticize or rule against our action. On the contrary, the court ordered that proper investigation be carried out and periodic reports be filed at the court.

As per rules, if a state government were to run a lottery ticket, the prize money as well as the operating expenses needed to be accounted for in that state’s budget. Before the draw, the number of tickets printed, the number sold, and the number unsold should be accounted for and reported to the respective government. No private party should be given the right to print and sell lottery tickets bearing the name of state governments. Further, there should be no daily draw of tickets. Investigations revealed that all these regulations were violated in the sale of lottery tickets bearing the name of north-eastern states. The north-east states lottery tickets were printed in Ambattur and the offices were located in Chennai city, it was found.

Greed and grinding poverty combined to drive poor people towards lottery tickets in the desperate hope that luck would favour them. Like gambling addiction, daily wage earners and low income monthly salaried classes were caught in a vicious circle, hoping that what they lost every day could be recouped in one big win. Destruction of families and suicides were often the results of this lottery addiction.

The Tamil Nadu state lottery department headed by an IAS officer was earning Rs 20 crore every year whereas the north-east state lottery ticket sales were over Rs 10,000 crores every year.

The reports related to the cases against unscrupulous lottery operators reached the state government. Realising that the lottery business was wreaking havoc on the lives of middle class and poor families, then chief minister Jayalalithaa banned the sale of all lottery tickets in the state in 2003. Many efforts were made by vested interests to overturn the ban but they did not succeed.

What one woman’s letter achieved can be equated to what one Kannagi’s demand for justice resulted in. Some 15 years have passed since the lottery ban. But even today, lottery tickets are being sold openly in many cities. It may take another heartfelt cry for justice for yet another police action.

(The author is a retired senior state police official who has held many key positions including IGP (Intelligence))
The article has been translated with permission from paarvaaiyalar.com

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