Thiruvananthapuram: The Pinarayi Vijayan government suffered a serious setback in the Life Mission case when the Kerala High Court rejected its joint plea against the CBI inquiry into the controversial housing project in which allegedly crores worth commissions were paid by the successful contractor company.
The co-petitioner was the managing director of the contracting company himself. The court also threw out the state government’s plea to make the state government a party to the case. The plea on behalf of the government was moved by the CEO of Life Mission.
With Tuesday’s verdict, the court also vacated a two-month temporary stay it had ordered for investigating the office of the Life Mission CEO, pending a final decision on the plea by CBI, which approached the court, complaining that the stay was interfering with its investigations.
Even though the court had stayed the investigations, it had upheld the validity of the CBI’s FIR, which gave the central investigating agency to go back to the court.
The high court order comes in the wake of the court’s finding that prima facie there are grounds for suspicion in the deal, which was part of the state government’s prestigious scheme for building houses for the poor.
The court found that senior bureaucrats, led by M Sivasankar, the former principal secretary of the chief minister, had plotted to defraud the scheme, in which Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair, prime accused in the gold smuggling case, were also involved.
The state government had maintained that it had nothing to do with the controversial deal, which according to it, was entered into between the UAE charity that provided funding for the project and the contractor.
The deal is also under the scanner of the Enforcement Directorate for possible havala operations in which the gold smuggling accused are believed to have facilitated the movement of dollars outside the country using diplomatic channels.
With a loss of face, the state government is examining the possibility of approaching the Supreme Court against the single-judge verdict. An observation by the court that the conspiracy was hatched by the bureaucrats and, therefore, the political leadership, including the chief minister and other ministers’ cannot be blamed for it provided some relief to the government.
Interestingly, the state government had sought to pre-empt the CBI inquiry by hurriedly announcing a probe by the Vigilance department of the state police. But the move seems to have boomeranged as the CBI argued that the Vigilance enquiry itself proved that there were irregularities and the court accepted the plea.
The Vigilance team had taken possession of important files relating to the deal before the CBI could lay hands on them, but the central agency can now demand those files from the state government’s investigators.
That the court’s verdict came on a day when there were bitter exchanges between the treasury and opposition benches in the assembly added to the sensation around the case, which the state government has been portraying as a move by the central agencies to scuttle the state’s flagship projects.