Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala has warned that Kerala has been pushed into a debt trap as the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB) is being given a free run by the Left Democratic Front government.
The government is expected to spend money after getting the Legislative Assembly’s approval. The KIIFB, on the other hand, has been acting like an independent entity, raising and spending funds with scant regard to the Assembly, governance and our financial set-up, Chennithala stated.
In an interview with Manorama Online, Chennithala also alleged that the government is making exaggerated development claims allegedly made possible by KIIFB funding. Coming down heavily on the Board, Chennithala termed it a ‘big fraud’ and added that it has no responsibility or liability towards the Assembly or the cabinet of ministers.
He pointed to KIIFB’s lack of transparency and mystery surrounding its functioning.
He also said the United Democratic Front’s priority, once voted to power, would be to address the issues of the youth. The CPM has been cheating the youth, the Congress leader said. Both the RSS and CPM have clandestinely forged a tie to achieve their common goal of a Congress-free Kerala.
Chennithala said the previous UDF government, under various projects, had constructed 4.43 lakh houses, double the number of housing units the current LDF government has built.
Excerpts from the interview:
The Aishwarya Kerala Yatra seems to have energized both the Congress and the UDF. What is your take away from the statewide rally?
People are waiting for an opportunity to oust the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government, and the excitement was visible throughout the yatra. The roadshow received overwhelming support from people from all walks of life. People have whole-heartedly welcomed it.
I could interact with the general society and representatives from various organizations. All of them were of the view that the LDF rule has shaken the foundations of the State. People have realized that the lack of development has been the hallmark of this government. They are pinning their hopes on the new UDF government. The energy the yatra has generated will fuel the UDF to a resounding win in the Assembly polls.
Minister Kadakampally Surendran has alleged that you had signed the deal on deep-sea fishing. Do you still believe that there was a conspiracy behind the deal?
Kadakampally’s allegation is absurd. My intervention exposed and prevented the government’s conspiracy to hand deep-sea fishing over to EMCC, an American firm. The intervention has made the government furious and Kadakampally’s statement should be seen in this light. The chief minister and the ministers for industries and fisheries were paving the way for major corruption. It all began with Fisheries Minister J Mercykutty Amma holding talks with EMCC in New York in 2018.
Later, the fisheries policy was amended to make the project possible. It is now clear that the fisheries minister had seen the relevant file before signing the Rs 5000-crore deal during Ascend (Global Investors’ Meet). EMCC representatives had held talks with the chief minister as well. It was as part of the project that the Kerala Inland Navigation Corporation signed a sub-contract for constructing 400 deep-sea fishing trawlers and five mother ships. The four acres handed over to develop a processing unit at Pallippuram was also part of the project.
If not for the Opposition’s timely intervention, the US firm would have reaped the fishing wealth from our waters. The prevention of the ‘sale’ has disappointed the Left government. Is the government now claiming the EMCC met the Opposition Leader, requesting him to prevent the Rs 5,000-crore deal?
The Opposition has supported the strike by PSC rank-holders. What would be UDF’s promises for the youth in its election manifesto?
The Opposition did not take up the strike. The PSC rank-holders themselves led the strike. They had worked hard to get into the PSC rank list. The youngsters reached the Secretariat demanding their hard-earned jobs. Not only the government denied them the jobs they deserved, but it also made backdoor appointments of undeserving candidates. The Opposition cannot turn a blind eye towards this injustice and hence supported the strike. The CPM has been cheating the youth in Kerala. It was painful to see the PSC rank-holders sitting on strike in front of the Secretariat even as the relatives of CPM leaders and party workers had backdoor entries to government jobs.
Though the strike went on for several days, the chief minister did not meet them even once. Instead, DYFI workers and police officers were sent to insult them. The government expressed its willingness for talks only after the election was notified. How will it benefit the rank-holders?
Once in power, the UDF’s primary concern will be to solve the issues of the youth. The UDF manifesto will seek to meet the expectations of the youth, and the necessary legislation will also be passed.
What would be the UDF’s stand on nepotism in appointments?
I assure the people that justifiable measures would be adopted.
The CPM has been critical of Muslim League’s undue prominence in the UDF. The BJP has invited the League to its fold as well. How do you view the campaign with League in the vanguard?
The Indian Union Muslim League is the second largest constituent in the UDF. The intentions behind the CPM’s allegation is different. The CPM’s attack on the League is to play the communal card during the polls. CPM’s attempt to damage the State’s communal harmony is dangerous.
What’s your take on the Left’s allegation of a Congress-BJP understanding for the polls?
This allegation is to hide the RSS-CPM move to eliminate the UDF. Both the RSS and CPM share the common agenda of having a Congress-free Kerala, and it has brought both of them together. It is the CPM and BJP’s need to defeat the UDF and Congress in Kerala. We are confident that the voters will realize it and give a befitting reply.
Are you alleging a CPM-BJP nexus in Kerala?
The chief minister doesn’t speak a word against Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Home Minister Amit Shah inside or outside the Assembly. The CPM-BJP nexus is clear in the freezing of the gold smuggling probe, repeated adjournment of the Lavlin case, and the investigation drama on the KIIFB issue. In fact, the chief minister criticized Rahul Gandhi in Modi’s tone and language.
The chief minister is attacking Congress in a desperate bid to keep the CPM-BJP nexus under wrap. He is silent on CPM leaders joining the BJP camp in Bengal and Tripura. The granting of Rs 17.5-crore worth four acres in Thiruvananthapuram city to an ascetic who was an intermediary between the CPM and RSS reveals Pinarayi’s bid to please the RSS.
Will there be fresh faces in the list of UDF candidates? Will the youth and women get more representation?
Yes, the list will have more youngsters and women.
Cine artistes Major Ravi, Dharmajan Bolgatty and Ramesh Pisharody have joined the Congress. Will they be in the fray?
They are all eligible to contest. The party will collectively decide on the candidates.
What is the involvement of the party high command and Rahul Gandhi in Kerala, especially since the latter’s Lok Sabha constituency is in the State?
Rahul Gandhi’s participation in the campaign has boosted the confidence of the UDF and Congress. The people of the State love him, and we are sure of a win under his leadership.
Of the three poll surveys published, two predict a continuation of the LDF rule, while the third foresees a close contest.
UDF believes in people, not surveys.
Do you support the government’s claim of the State having the best defence against COVID?
Kerala has the most number of COVID-19 patients, and more than half of the country’s test positivity rate is also from the State. Experts blame the current situation on reduced tests, a move the State made to gain fame. The government has been hiding the real spread of the disease and the mortality rate. Everyone knows about them by now.
LDF claims that KIIFB had implemented several development activities. Will the UDF continue its opposition to KIIFB and Life Mission once it wins power?
KIIFB is a big fraud. It didn’t bring development to the State. It’s an institution with no responsibility or liability to the Assembly or cabinet of ministers. In a democratic set-up, each penny the government spends should be put to vote in the House. However, KIIFB has been indulging in raising and spending funds outside the governance and our financial set-up. It is functioning as a non-transparent, independent entity. Its functions are mysterious.
The government decided to do away with the auditing by the Comptroller and Auditor General to hide the corruption in KIIFB and its spendthrift ways. Of the development projects to the tune of Rs 65,000 crore announced, only Rs 7,000 crore worth plans were implemented. Normally, the PWD is responsible for bridges and roads. This government made the execution of such projects through KIIFB and is claiming it as a big achievement. The raising of funds through masala bonds, inviting exorbitant interest rate, is unconstitutional. This deal is also mysterious.
The UDF is not against any project to construct houses for the poor. But, how can it not oppose when such projects help middle-persons like Swapna Suresh to get commission? Previous UDF governments, too, had constructed houses for the poor through various projects. The LDF combined them to make a single project called LIFE MISSION.
The government has been claiming that it had constructed houses for 2.5 lakh people. The previous UDF government, through various projects, had handed over the keys of 4.43 lakh houses. That means the present government could construct only half the number of houses. Still, the LDF is claiming to have achieved something bigger. The UDF will be concentrating on building houses for the poor instead of misleading people through fake claims.
The UDF has been levelling corruption charges against the government. How will you defend when those from your own Front face corruption charges?
The LDF government has lost its face following the gold smuggling case, charges of nepotism and backdoor appointments. It is levelling charges against the people’s representatives from the UDF to save its image. The vigilance case against Ebrahim Kunju was a political vendetta. In the case of M. C. Kamaruddin, his business had gone bust. He had not indulged in corruption.
While Jose K Mani left the Front, Mani C Kappen joined the UDF. How will it affect the poll outcome?
The UDF would not be affected by the exit of Jose K Mani-led Kerala Congress. The UDF stands to gain from Mani C Kappen's joining.
Several people, including E Sreedharan, have joined the BJP. Which Front will lose its vote share to NDA?
The BJP-led NDA will not have any impact in Kerala.
The government has withdrawn cases registered in connection with the Sabarimala agitation. Aren't issues of belief and believers among UDF's main agenda?
The UDF has always protected the beliefs.
What is the UDF’s approach towards community organizations?
The UDF has a cordial relationship with the leadership of all community organizations.
The in-camera statement which linked the chief minister to dollar smuggling has become public. Will you use the gold smuggling case against the LDF?
The customs’ affidavit has validated the allegations the UDF had raised. The chief minister does not have the right to continue in office after the Customs submitting the statement in the High Court, saying the chief minister had direct involvement in the dollar smuggling case. The charge amounts to treason. The Customs got the statement by the accused, Swapna Suresh, more than two months ago. Irrespective of the statement’s credibility, since it is against the chief minister, three ministers and Speaker, the investigating agencies have the responsibility to probe the charge. But the probe against the chief minister was sabotaged after he wrote to the prime minister.
The Customs has summoned Vinodini, wife of Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, for questioning. Do you feel the i-Phone row is taking a new direction?
Kodiyeri Balakrishnan earlier told a news conference that the accused in the Life Mission bribery case had gifted me the i-Phone. He was lying since the phone was with his wife. He should be ashamed.
He should apologize if he has at least an iota of decency left in him.
Has Oommen Chandy expedited the campaign preparations? Who will be the chief minister if UDF comes to power?
The Congress high-command will decide on the chief minister. Right now, unified moves are afoot to take UDF to success.