Kerala Govt's lopsided priorities too bleed state coffers dry

Representational image. File Photo.

Even as Kerala is reeling under severe financial crisis the State government rarely hesitates to shell out money for causes dear to the ruling party, the CPM.

For instance, lawyers based in Delhi will be defending former Finance Minister T M Thomas Isaac and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in cases registered by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

Funds from the exchequer are used to hire expensive lawyers though the government has about 140 advocates under Advocate General to represent it in the High Court.

The ED registered a case against Isaac in connection with the open financial borrowings of the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB) by issuing bonds.

The ED has moved the Supreme Court, seeking the transfer of the trial in a case registered based on the revelations by Swapna Suresh, an accused in the diplomatic baggage gold smuggling case against Chief Minister Vijayan and his family members.

Swapna Suresh.
Swapna Suresh. File Photo.

The State government is likely to hire senior lawyers from Delhi to defend Vijayan.

The ED has requested the apex court to transfer the case to Bengaluru from Kerala, saying "a free and fair trial" is not possible in the State since there is a nexus between the accused and top officials and other government functionaries.

Hefty legal fees are incurred for eminent lawyers brought from outside the State even when lakhs of rupees are regularly spent to pay the salaries, besides providing vehicles and other facilities, of the nearly 140 advocates, supposed to represent the government in the courts.

In case of adverse court order in the State, the government has another set of advocates, the standing counsel, to take the cases on its behalf at the Supreme Court. Still, the government hires lawyers from outside by paying hefty sums, running into crores.

Incidentally, the government has as many as 21 special government pleaders, and 112 senior government pleaders besides the Advocate General to present its cases in the High Court. Additionally, the State also has a Director General of Prosecutions (DGP) and Additional DGP, taking the total headcount of its advocates to about 140.

Nearly Rs 9 crore cumulative legal fees

The Kerala government has shelled out Rs 8.73 crore as lawyers' fees since Pinarayi Vijayan assumed office as the chief minister six years ago.

This amount was given to prominent lawyers brought from outside the State. Incidentally, this amount was spent on 19 cases.

The State is yet to pay Rs 22 lakh to another lawyer, and yet another's fee is being calculated.

Representational image. File Photo.

The airfare of lawyers alone came to Rs 24.94 lakh, and the government spent another Rs 8.60 lakh to provide them accommodation.

The government pumped in Rs 88 lakh to prevent a CBI probe into the February 2019 double murder of two Youth Congress workers, Krupesh and Sharath Lal, at Periya in Kasaragode district. Another Rs 86.40 lakh was spent for the same reason in the S P Shuhaib murder case. Shuhaid was murdered o the outskirts of Mattannur in February 2018.

The State government did not hesitate to provide Rs 60 lakh to argue a plea by CPM leader S Sharma, who sought voting rights for MLAs of the previous Assembly in the Rajya Sabha polls.

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Kerala Government paid Rs 8.73 crore for 12 lawyers in the last six years.

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Pallav Sisodia Rs 1.78 crore

Harin P Raval Rs 1.68 crore

Ranjit Kumar Rs 1.45 crore

Vijay Hansaria Rs 64.40 lakh

Jaideep Gupta Rs 61.50 lakh

Maninder Singh Rs 60 lakh

C S Vaidyanathan Rs 60 lakh

Vikas Singh Rs 56 lakh

K V Vishwanathan Rs 55 lakh

N Venkitaraman Rs 20 lakh

Prabhas Bajaj Rs 3 lakh

N S Nappinai Rs 2 lakh

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Indifference towards tribal lynching

Even as the government splurges crores of rupees to save the accused in political cases it is not keen to deliver justice to late Madhu, a tribesman lynched to death in Attappadi.

Madhu, before he was lynched to death. File Photo.

A fourth prosecutor is now arguing Madhu's case. The government has not provided the necessary facilities to the present prosecutor. All the four prosecutors are yet to receive the honorarium.

The third prosecutor in the case, C Rajendran, relied on a police vehicle, and stayed in the government guest house. It has been estimated that about Rs 1 lakh was spent to get copies of the necessary documents.

The current prosecutor is a resident of Palakkad, and he returns home after the hearing at the Special SC-ST Court at Mannarkkad. Madhu's family has already complained of discrimination.

The government has not effectively intervened even as the witnesses kept turning hostile. Its response would have been different had Madhu been a CPM activist or sympathiser, at least.

Digitisation of healthcare records a non-starter

The planned digital system, named eHealth, designed to ensure a convenient, centralised healthcare system for the residents of Kerala was a non-starter though much money was spent on it. The Oommen Chandy government had earmarked about Rs 350 crore to roll-out this project.

The government had then purchased computers and other equipment, and deputed officials from other departments to implement the scheme. Even after years, the project has not achieved its desired result of digitising all documents, including out-patients tickets.

Scientists working on computer.(
Representational image: IANS

Equipment then purchased has been damaged, and the government has not made any effort to repair them. The deputed officials are now trying to return to their parent departments. There is no clarity on the amount — of the allotted Rs 350 crore — that has been spent on the project.

Assembly ruckus: Rs 2.50 lakh loss, Rs 16.50 lakh for advocate!

The State suffered a pecuniary loss of Rs 2.50 lakh when the then opposition Left Democrtaic Front MLAs created a ruckus in the Assembly to prevent Finance Minister K M Mani from presenting the Budget on March 13, 2015. Six MLAs were arraigned as accused for trespassing and causing destruction to public property.

The LDF, which later came to power, hired senior Supreme Court lawyer Ranjit Singh to defend the accused, including current Minister V Sivankutty, former minister K T Jaleel and E P Jayarajan, in the apex court. The advocate's fee was Rs 16.50 lakh, for defending those who have been charged with causing a loss of Rs 2.50 lakh!

High-profile case lost despite incurring Rs 6.34 crore

The State spent Rs 6.34 crore as legal expenses between 2009 and August 31, 2021 in the Mullaperiyar Dam case with Tamil Nadu. As many as 10 lawyers appeared in the Supreme Court on behalf of Kerala, and the senior advocate alone took home Rs 1.82 crore. Still, the court ruled in favour of Tamil Nadu.

According to available statistics, Rs 56,55,057 was provided as travel allowance (TA), Rs 58,34,739 was spent for the visit of the high-level committee, and Rs 16,41,500 as honorarium.

Mid-day meals: Teachers' headache

The government's share for providing mid-day meals to schoolchildren is Rs 8 per head. If the school's strength is more than 150 students, the share will come down to Rs 7 per head, and it will be further slashed to Rs 6 if the school has more than 500 students.

Though the government has been providing rice to schools, side dishes should be prepared utilising the the government's share. Two side dishes should be served with the rice, besides providing 150 millilitre of milk twice a week and an egg each a week.

Mid-day meal
Photo: Manorama

Besides, the schools should find means to meet the cooking expenses, which puts a heavy burden on the head masters and teachers responsible for the mid-day meals.

Even as the government has been splurging money, it has been tightening the purse strings on others, such as the mid-day meals scheme. Incidentally, the government's share, decided years ago, has not been revised.

The plight of those preparing the mid-day meals is pathetic, and the government has been turning a blind eye towards them. According to the government, each cook has been assigned to prepare meals for 500 students.

As many as 14,000 cooks, mostly women, are involved in the scheme, and they have not received their salaries even two months after the reopening of the schools.

The situation of about 25,000 anganwadi workers and 10,000 Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) is not different. Though they are offered a meagre amount as honorarium, the government does not have funds to pay them.

Coordination: V R Prathap

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