For a change, there was no dispute in the Assembly about perhaps the most burning political issue in the capital at the moment: the corruption in Thiruvananthapuram Corporation. The dispute was only about the scale and the people involved.
Devaswom minister K Radhakrishnan, who stood in for local self-government minister M Govindan, termed the tax scam as a "minor" issue.
Opposition Leader V D Satheesan said such trivialisation of issues that deeply hurt the lives of the common man was emboldening the culprits to indulge in such crimes with impunity.
Radhakrishnan said four people were arrested and 13 were suspended.
Satheesan charged that the real culprits who instigated and empowered the accused corporation officials to commit such fraud were still at large.
"They are people who are very close to you, Satheesan told the ruling benches. When this provoked the ruling side MLAs to rise in their seats and shout strong words at him, Satheesan became more specific.
"The real culprits belong to the CPM Staff Association in the Corporation," he said. "You are delaying their arrest just so that
they could get enough time to secure anticipatory bail," he added.
It was revealed that officials in the three zonal offices of the Corporation - Nemom, Attipra and Sreekaryam - had pilfered the various taxes the public had paid the Corporation. Last fiscal alone, nearly Rs 34 lakh of tax payments made under various heads were diverted this way.
Radhakrishnan promised that the public who had paid the taxes but were cheated would not be asked to pay again. "They just have to produce the receipt. And if there is no receipt, there is nothing to worry about as there will be records of payment in the zonal offices, " the minister said.
The tax scam was not the only instance of corruption. Congress MLA M Vincent, who raised the issue in the Assembly on Wednesday, and the Opposition Leader gave a list of the other "outrageous" tricks the Corporation staff were up to.
Vincent said that the Corporation officials had shown that 21 tipper lorries and 250 labourers were pressed into service to clean up the capital city after an Attukal Pongala that did not take place. "This year, the Pongala was held just inside the sanctum sanctorum. But the Corporation officials pocketed the money for cleaning that was not required, " Vincent said.
Scheduled caste families were also taken for a ride. Vincent said that officials had pocketed nearly Rs 1.5 crore by creating fake bank accounts in the name of SC beneficiaries. He said this was done at the behest of a DYFI leader.
Radhakrishnan admitted that this had happened but said swift action was taken and the culprits arrested.
Vincent said as per records the Corporation had 135 vehicles but 41 of them were missing. He said 16 of the 41 were not really missing. "You can see them in front of the Santhi Kavadam (Corporation's crematorium) but with most of their costly spare parts, even the engine, missing," he said. "The remaining 25 have disappeared fully," Vincent said.
Satheesan said that the Corporation was paying the insurance of 225 vehicles though it possesses just 137 vehicles.
The Opposition Leader also spoke of the Corporation's penchant for purchasing equipment on rent even when it owns such equipment.
"The Corporation has a Hitachi vehicle and a mobile mortuary but whenever there is a need, it secures both these facilities on rent, " Satheesan said. "It was found that the Corporation had kept its own mobile mortuary hidden," he added.
He also challenged the ruling benches to disprove any of the charges he and Vincent had made.
The government, however, did not entertain Satheesan's demand for a probe into the functioning of Thiruvananthapuram Corporation by the Local Self Government secretary. "Already various probes, including that of the police and Finance are on," Radhakrishnan said.