Thiruvananthapuram : In the wake of the clean chit given to him by the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) in the politically volatile bar bribery case, former Kerala finance minister K M Mani is planning to return to the state cabinet.
Mani, who was exonerated in the reinvestigation conducted by the anti-corruption body on the orders of a vigilance court, said that he will go by the party decision.
The Kerala Congress (M), which he heads, has already made it clear that the party wants him to present the next state budget.
Party general secretary Antony Raju said the situation that led to his leader’s resignation had become invalid following the final report filed in the court by VACB superintendent of police R Sukeshan ruling out any scope for prosecuting him in the case.
Mani had resigned in November last year following adverse remarks from the High Court over his continuation in the cabinet even after the commencement of further investigation into the allegation that he had received a bribe of Rs.25 lakhs as bribe from the bar owners to renew the licenses of closed bars.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said that Mani will be free to return to the cabinet if the court accepts the final report. Special vigilance court judge John K Illiakkadan is scheduled to consider the report on Saturday.
Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president V M Sudheeran has left it to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy to take a decision on re-inducting the former minister into the cabinet. UDF convenor P P Thankachan said that the ruling front will take a decision at the appropriate time.
With only less than four months to go for the next assembly poll, political observers are doubtful whether the vigilance court scrutiny will be completed before the end of the current term of the government.
The vigilance judge had taken four months to scrutinise the previous report. The scrutiny of the present report may take time since the court will have to hear the petitioners, who had challenged the previous report.
The petitioners, who include leader of opposition V S Achuthanandan, Left Democratic Front (LDF) convenor Vaikom Viswan, Communist Party of India (CPI) legislator V S Sunil Kumar, are unlikely to make the political relief easy to Mani.
Sunil Kumar has already demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe in the case. Kerala Bar Hotel Owners Association working president Biju Ramesh, who raised the allegation against Mani, has also hinted that he will seek further legal recourse if the report is accepted.
He alleged that the investigating officer had concluded the investigation without giving sufficient opportunity to the bar owners to produce evidence in support of his allegations.
He said that many bar owners, who had initially denied giving bribe to Mani, had come forward to tell the truth following the dismissal of their petition, challenging the state government’s liquor policy, by the Supreme Court.
The opposition Communist Party of India (Marxist) alleged that the VACB denied them chance to spill the beans in the case because of pressure from the government.