Thiruvananthapuram: Leader of Opposition V D Satheesan termed Friday's Lok Ayukta split verdict on the alleged misuse of the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF) as strange but intended to buy time so that Pinarayi Vijayan remains in the saddle.
The final verdict would not be delivered as long as Pinarayi Vijayan continued to be the Chief Minister, Satheesan said.
Alternatively, the verdict would be kept pending until the Governor signed the amendment Bill related to the issue. The credibility of the Lok Ayukta will be destroyed by this verdict which is in complete violation of the law, he said soon after a bench of the Kerala Lok Ayukta comprising Lok Ayukta Cyriac Joseph and Deputy Lok Ayukta Harun Ul-Rashid referred the petition pertaining to the misuse of CMDRF to a three-judge bench.
Satheesan also wanted the courts to intervene.
“After the verdict was passed, what surprised everyone was the differences of opinion among the judges. It was ruled that the petition should be referred to the Full Bench on the question of whether the case would stand on its merits. In 2019, the then Lok Ayukta, Justice Pius Kuriakose, and two Upa (deputy) Lok Ayuktas had taken a unanimous decision that the case could be considered here. We are surprised that in 2023, four years after the 2019 judgment, the present verdict says that the case must go to the Full Bench,” Satheesan said.
“The verdict has come one year after the conclusion of all arguments. It has not been made clear why there was this delay of one year. The verdict would not have come even now if the complainant had not moved the High Court and the court had directed him to approach the Lok Ayukta again. This would have remained a verdict that was never delivered”, Satheesan said.
From February 5, 2022, the arguments were conducted concerning the merits of the case. The arguments were made by producing evidence on the misuse of the relief fund. Other than that, there has been no argument before this Lok Ayukta in 2022 on the issue of whether the case would stand on its merits. The arguments for three days about the issue took place even before that. It was decided then that the Full Bench Lok Ayukta can consider the case. Even then, the verdict came after a wait of one year. And that too, a verdict referring the petition to the Full Bench”, Satheesan further said.
"It was wrong to refer the petition to the Full Bench again when a ruling to that effect already existed. The number of cases coming for Lok Ayukta’s consideration is coming down. Therefore, there was no prevailing situation warranting a wait of one year to deliver the verdict”, Satheesan said.
Satheesan also reminded about a threat issued by former minister K T Jaleel against the Lok Ayukta. Incidentally, during the fag end of the first Pinarayi Vijayan Government the then State Higher Education Minister K T Jaleel had to quit following the Lok Ayukta verdict indicting him for misuse of official powers.
“My opinion is that this is a verdict obtained by threatening the Lok Ayukta. The then Minister K T Jaleel had threatened the Lok Ayukta with the knowledge of the Chief Minister. The attempt was to forestall a verdict in the case. It was feared the verdict in this case that the Chief Minister had brought the Amendment Bill in the Assembly. The Governor has not signed it. There are two aims for this verdict: either this will be postponed indefinitely or there will be no verdict until Pinarayi Vijayan leaves the post of Chief Minister. Alternatively, there could be a compromise with the Kerala Governor at any moment. If the Governor signs the Lok Ayukta Bill, there is no need to fear any verdict that may come,” Satheesan said.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, 16 Ministers who were part of his first regime (2016-21) and the then Chief Secretary are blamed for sanctioning money from the CMDRF for undeserving people. The petition filed by R S Sasikumar, former Syndicate member of Kerala University, demanded that since the fund was misused, the amount should be recovered from those who took part in the relevant Cabinet meeting and that they should be declared disqualified.
The verdict was crucial to Pinarayi Vijayan as he is the only person holding power among the 16 charged. The judgment usually takes force instantly as per the provisions of the Kerala Lok Ayukta Act, 1999. The current State Government's legislative bid to curtail the powers of the anti-graft ombudsman is yet to get the assent of the Governor.