Thiruvananthapuram: Congress legislator Mathew Kuzhalnadan on Tuesday said Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is the real culprit in the case over Cochin Minerals and Rutiles Limited (CMRL) – a controversial private minerals firm – making illegal payments to his daughter T Veena.
Addressing a press meet here a day after Speaker A N Shamseer denied him the permission to raise a corruption allegation against the chief minister in the assembly, Kuzhalnadan presented a timeline of events, trying to prove Vijayan showed undue interest to help CMRL retain four land leases for mining mineral beach sand. Kuzhalnadan alleged Vijayan acted against the proclaimed policy of the successive governments against allowing private firms in the sector.
The Congress MLA, citing purported government communications, said Vijayan interfered to try to retain the leases despite the central government’s decision to cancel permission given to all private companies to mine atomic minerals.
Though four leases, valued around Rs 1,000 crore as per current rates, were allowed to CMRL in 2004 by the then government, they were cancelled after 10 days as they were found to be against public interests. The CMRL moved the Central Mines Tribunal and got a favourable verdict, though the government remained stuck to its decision to cancel the leases. A legal battle followed with the CMRL moving High Court and Supreme Court against the government decision. On April 8, 2016, a month before the first Pinarayi Vijayan government assumed power, the Supreme Court settled the matter in favour of the private company. However, the apex court had made it clear that the government has the right to issue a notification and acquire the leased land as per the provisions of the law.
From December 2016, Veena started getting a monthly payment of Rs 5 lakh from CMRL. From March 2017, her IT company Exalogic also started getting Rs 3 lakh per month from the mineral firm. In 2018, the Pinarayi government released its industrial policy which said mining of atomic minerals will be restricted to public sector alone. However, in the Malayalam version of the policy a line was added saying, the existing order of the Supreme Court on the matter will be implemented. It was aimed at helping the CMRL as it was the time when the government was processing the request submitted by the company to revoke cancellation of the leases.
As the roads appeared clear for CMRL, the Centre amended the law banning permission for private companies to mine mineral sand. Following this, the state government started preparing the notification to acquire the land in question. Then the CMRL filed a plea with the CM to invoke the related files.
Kuzhalnadan produced the copy of a government file with a note by the principal secretary industries that read, “Please process this. He may need an in-principle approval before sending for law vetting. CM reviewed this on 04, September 2019. Let’s be ready with the PPT.”
The Congress leader also produced an internal circulation notice issued to concerned departments which left the final decision on the matter to the chief minister whether to terminate the leases or seek a legal opinion on it.
Though the lease was terminated, no action has been taken yet to acquire the land from CMRL. “This is only the part 1 of the story. There will be a part 2 and 3,” Kuzhalnadan said.
He said the chief minister’s involvement trying to help CMRL was a quid pro quo for the payments his daughter received. “There cannot be a better evidence for the corruption by the CM than this,” he claimed.
“What was the need for the CM to interfere in the matter when the leases would have been naturally got terminated following the Centre’s decision,” he asked.
Kuzhalnadan said Speaker Shamseer was shielding the chief minister by preventing him from raising the issue in assembly even after giving it in writing as per the House’s procedures.
“Permission was denied to me because the CM does not have an explanation.” Kuzhalnadan said.
The Congress MLA has stepped up his attack against Vijayan even as the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) under the Union Corporate Affairs Ministry has initiated a probe into the illegal payment case.
Troubles started for Veena last year following a Manorama report that CMRL had paid a total of Rs 1.72 crore to Veena between 2017 and 2020. The news report cited the ruling of an interim board for settlement and said CMRL previously had an agreement with Veena's IT firm for consultancy and software support services.
It alleged that though no service was rendered by her firm, the amount was paid on a monthly basis "due to her relationship with a prominent person". This year, another report cited findings by the Registrar of Companies (ROC) against Veena's firm.