By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The verdict of Lok Ayukta Justice Cyriac Joseph in the case of alleged misappropriation of the Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund (CMRDF) during Pinarayi Vijayan Government’s previous term from 2016 to 2021 has come as a big relief to the Chief Minister.
Any adverse verdict in the case would have left the Chief Minister with no option but to resign. Resignation cannot be avoided as there is no provision for appeal against the Lok Ayukta’s verdict.
The case was filed by a former employee of Kerala University R S Sasikumar alleging that funds from CMRDF had been distributed in violation of norms governing allocation of the funds. A year has elapsed since the arguments in the case came to an end. But the verdict has come after a full year. The petitioner had moved the Kerala High Court against the delay in the Lok Ayukta verdict.
Now that the verdict has come, the petitioner has again decided to approach the High Court against the split verdict announced by the Lok Ayukta. The petitioner also contends that, as per a Supreme Court judgment, orders in such cases looked into by the Lok Ayukta should be given within six months.
In his order, Justice Cyriac Joseph has said that since there are differences between him and UP Lok Ayukta Haroon Rashid, the case has been referred to a three-member full bench. No date has been fixed for further hearing in the case. The Lok Ayukta and the UP Lok Ayukta are divided on whether a collective decision of the State Cabinet can be subjected to investigation under the provisions of the Kerala Lok Ayukta Act.
The petitioner’s case is that the Cabinet had disbursed the funds in violation of CMRDF norms. Here are the details: A financial assistance of Rs 25 lakh had been given to the family of a politician close to the LDF Government, who is no more. Also, an amount of Rs 9 lakh was given to the family of a deceased MLA. Moreover, Rs 20 lakh was given to a police official who was killed after the pilot vehicle of the then CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan met with an accident. The petitioner accused the Government of giving the funds in blatant violation of the norms governing CMRDF allocation.
It may be mentioned that Higher Education Minister KT Jaleel in the previous Pinarayi Government resigned after the Lok Ayukta had found him guilty of nepotism. There were fears that a similar fate might befall Pinarayi Vijayan if the Lok Ayukta verdict went against him. The split verdict has averted that situation, giving the Chief Minister a reprieve and time to initiate further legal action. The verdict means that a protracted legal battle is inevitable in the case. Petitioner Sasikumar has said that he would go to any extent, if need be even to the Supreme Court, to get a favourable verdict.
The previous Pinarayi Government had brought in legislation amending the Kerala Lok Ayukta Act by including provisions empowering the Assembly to review the Lok Ayukta orders disqualifying ministers. At present, it is awaiting State Governor Arif Mohammed Khan’s assent. If the Governor signs the bill, then even if the verdict of the High Court goes against him, the Chief Minister won’t have to resign. The opposition had alleged that the amendment was aimed at overcoming any adverse order by the Lok Ayukta.
In an early reaction, senior Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala has said that there is no way the Chief Minister can get a favourable verdict from the High Court. He also accused the Lok Ayukta of delaying the verdict under pressure.
With the petitioner deciding to continue the legal battle, the ball is now in the court of Kerala High Court. As of now, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan can heave a sigh of relief. He gets much-needed time to go ahead with appropriate legal action to weather the storm – legal as well as political – created by the case. (IPA Service)