Opposition stages walk out after Kerala Speaker refuses to demit office

The only thing dramatic about the Resolution moved in the Assembly on Thursday by the Opposition to remove P Sreeramakrishnan from the post of the Speaker was the seating arrangement.

It was odd, even a bit of a shock, to witness the Speaker taking a seat among the members. The man who had for the last four-and-a-half years lorded over the Assembly from a high perch had to take a chair placed at the foot of his podium. It was as weird as spotting the principal of an institution seated among the students of a class.

Sreeramakrishnan also had to take a chair right next to his chief rival, Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala. And deputy speaker P Sasi, for the first time, officiated the proceedings in the original Speaker's presence.

Except for this strange arrangement, the debate on the resolution to remove the Speaker was a jaded affair that saw nothing but the repetition of the charges and counters that were already in public.

The Opposition said Sreeramakrishnan should quit the Constitutional post because of his personal and suspicious connections with the gold smuggling accused. It was also alleged that it was the Speaker who was mentioned in the statement of one of the accused as the Constitutional head who facilitated illegal dollar transactions.

Sreeramakrishnan, it was further alleged, had indulged in excessive and wasteful spending for construction, digitisation and other events related to the Legislative Complex.

The ruling benches, on their part, argued that there was no evidence against the Speaker and the charges were based on mere hearsay, on newspaper reports alone.

Muslim League MLA M Ummer, who moved the resolution against the Speaker, said Sreeramakrishnan's actions had diminished the dignity of the Assembly.

(Left) Deputy Speaker V Sasi chairs the session, (right) M Ummer presents the resolution against the speaker.

Ummer, and other UDF leaders who spoke after him, criticised the Speaker for using the privilege reserved exclusively for legislators to protect his assistant private secretary who was called for questioning by the Customs.

The Speaker said he had not attempted to block the questioning of his staff member. "I just said it would not be possible to spare my staff on such short notice as the call had come just two days before the start of the current session," Sreeramakrishnan said.

The Speaker's Swapna connection was also raised. Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala asked why Sreeramakrishnan failed to even check with Neyyatinkara MLA C Divakaran before leaving to inaugurate Sandeep Nair's shop, in Neyyatinkara constituency, at the insistence of Swapna Suresh. Sreeramakrishnan did not respond to this but agreed that he knew Swapna as an official of the UAE Consulate.

Chennithala also termed as grave Swapna's 164 statement before the court in which she implicated a person occupying a Constitutional post.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who spoke after Chennithala, said the 164 statement was suspicious. He argued that the accused had been in custody for months and had been interrogated by many agencies. "Why was such a charge not recorded by any of the probe agencies suddenly given as a 164 statement," he asked. Vijayan said it was a political conspiracy.

Chennithala had a counter. "Do you have any knowledge of the statements initially recorded by these investigating agencies," he asked. Vijayan said no.

The indiscriminate grant of Assembly-related works to Uralungal Labour Contract Cooperative Society (ULCCS) doing away with tender proceedings was the other big charge against the Speaker.

In response, Sreeramakrishnan produced letters written by UDF leaders, including Chennithala, M K Muneer and Ummer, who had written to the government asking that public works in their constituencies be handed over to the ULCCS without any tender.

Chennithala then alleged that the ULCCS had sub-contracted the e-Niyamabha project. The Speaker flatly said he was not aware of ULCCS sub-contracting their work.

The sprucing up of the Sankaranarayanan Thampy lounge inside the Legislative Complex, in two stages, was highlighted as yet another sign of the Speaker's extravagance.

The Speaker responded to this with an Anton Chekhov story. Two young men in the story were asked to jot down their impressions of a new construction. One of them, the Speaker said, wrote highly of the aesthetic quality and the skill of the workers. And the other wrote about the ways in which money could have been pilfered. "It was decreed that the second man be banished from the country," Sreeramakrishnan said.

During the nearly four-hour debate on the resolution, an interesting side show was the war of words between the Speaker and the Opposition Leader.

Chennithala said Sreeramakrishnan was unworthy of the Speaker's post as he was part of the gang that pushed down the Speaker's chair in 2014. "The party might have offered you the post but you should have declined to accept it," Chennithala said.

When his turn came, Sreeramakrishnan asked Chennithala to grow up. "When I was in school I had heard a speech by Chennithala when he was a KSU leader. Even now he speaks the same way," the Speaker said.

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