Kerala's ruling Congress-led UDF government and Chief Minister Oommen Chandy on Friday got a reprieve when the Kerala High Court put on hold a lower court order for registering an FIR against him and his cabinet colleague in solar panel scam case. Kerala HC said that the vigilance court acted mechanically without knowing nature and extent of its powers.
The petition of Chandy and state Power Minister Aryadan Mohammed came up before Justice P Ubaid, who put the lower court order on hold for two months.
Saritha Nair, an accused, in the case, alleged that she was told by the CM to "create a company-- Kerala Renewable Energy Cooperative Society Ltd-" involving Chandy Oommen and some other family members and was told to incorporate details about renewable energy resources in its bylaw.
According to her, Chandy Oommen was a partner of an American firm called Starflames Inc and it was suggested that the US-based company could be used for importing solar panel required for the institution to be formed in Kerala.
Nair has on Wednesday levelled bribery allegations against the chief minister. She stated before the inquiry commission that she gave Rs 1.90 crore to a person called Thomas Kuruvilla that was meant for Chandy. She had also alleged that Mohammed also was given Rs 40 lakh.
It was based on this that activist P D Joseph approached the Thrissur Vigilance Court on Wednesday and the judge ordered an FIR to be registered against Chandy and his cabinet colleague.
Saritha on Friday claimed his son Chandy Oommen as the one who was closely involved in it. Saritha made the disclosure on the third day of her deposition before the Solar Judicial commission, and said she met the chief minister many times and not just three times as mentioned by Oommen Chandy before the commission.
She said there was a picture of hers that had come out at a function at Kottayam where she met the chief minister and on that day she was talking about a new company to be formed by his son Chandy Oommen and Chief Minister Oommen Chandy agreed to that.
DYFI and Left protesters held massive demonstrations across Kerala against Chandy on Friday as the Chief Minister turned defiant in the ongoing solar scam.
Chandy had moved petition in High Court seeking quashing of FIR ordered against him by Thrissur court, ANI reported.
Police deployed tear gas to disperse the crowd, CNN-IBN report said. Initially it was just stone pelting, but CNN-IBN reported that protesters are throwing petrol bombs at the police. Situation is getting more violent, reports said.
Speaking to CNN-IBN, Chandy said he was not worried as he has not taken a single penny. "Left and BJP targeting me because they are scared," Chandy told CNN IBN. "People of Kerala are smart, they know the truth."
Congress leader KV Thomas also said that Chandy was heading the probe team of the Solar scam. "Whenever allegations have been leveled against Cong ministers, they have stepped down even when no crime against have been proven. Under Oommen Chandy, we will return to power in Kerala."
Kerala's ruling Congress-led UDF suffered a blow on Thursday as a court ordered an FIR to be filed in the solar panel scam against Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who claimed innocence and rejected opposition calls to resign. Chandy is all set to challenge with an appeal in the High Court Friday as the Congress high command in New Delhi comes to grips with the "serious" issue.
— ANI (@ANI_news) January 29, 2016
— ANI (@ANI_news) January 29, 2016
— ANI (@ANI_news) January 29, 2016
Thursday’s court order comes on a petition by an activist after Saritha Nair, one of the main accused, alleged she had paid a bribe of Rs 1.9 crore to the Chief Minister through an aide. In recent days, Chandy has chucked out three official aides after they were named as alleged middlemen in the scam which traces its roots to 2013.
Television channels in Kerala on Wednesday aired the audio of a purported conversation between Congress state general secretary Thampanoor Ravi and Saritha S Nair in which Ravi can be heard tutoring her ahead of her deposition before a judicial commission. In the audio, Ravi, a loyalist of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, can be purportedly heard telling Nair that her statement before the commission should be in line with what Chandy had said. In his statement, Chandy had told the commission that he had met Saritha three times.
"The Chief Minister’s resignation would virtually mean acceptance of guilt. His continuation would fuel the Opposition’s agitation,” Congress insiders told The Indian Express.
And even as Saritha Nair, one of the main accused in the scandal who hurled bribery allegations against the chief minister on Wednesday, threatened on Thursday to prove that Chandy was guilty, the UDF lost a RSP legislator, who said he was disgusted with Chandy's government. Police investigators estimate that around Rs 6 crore has been swindled in this scam.
“If there is an iota of substance in the allegation, I will quit public life,” Chandy said. After holding discussions with party leaders and legal experts in Kochi, Chandy said he would file an appeal in the High Court on Friday against the order of the Vigilance court in Thrissur, reports The Indian Express.
A court in Thrissur told Kerala's vigilance department to file a First Information Report (FIR) against Chandy on corruption charges in what has come to be known as the "solar scam".
The genesis of the scam goes back to 2013 when a fake solar energy company named Team Solar -- floated by Biju Radhakrishnan and Saritha S. Nair -- duped several influential people of about 70 million rupees by offering to make them business partners. They also allegedly received advance payments by offering to install solar power units . The company used two women to create political contacts with links leading up to the Chief Minister's office. CNN IBN has the lowdown.
An editorial comment in The Hindu says Chandy has no option but to fight his case legally. "By doing so politically, and perhaps by pleading his case to his party in the run-up to Assembly elections a few months from now, he would risk drawing Kerala into a constitutional crisis," says the newspaper.
The BJP is firing on all cylinders after the latest details blew up: "One cannot hope much from the Congress high command because it has looked the other way on corruption. Congress moves from one issue to another (to target BJP) but will somebody from its high command go to Kerala and speak on corruption?," said Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
"The charges against the chief minister and the power minister are of very serious nature and we demand their resignations."
The developments have come at a time when the UDF faces assembly elections only months away. The opposition Left immediately asked Chandy to resign. CPM leader Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said: "The court has made its intentions clear through the FIR, and Chandy has only one way now to go forward and that is to quit at the earliest."
Chandy maintained in Malappuram that he had a clear conscience. "I have done no wrong. I will face the probe and cooperate with it," he said. Asked if would resign, Chandy shot back: "For what?"
The scam erupted in 2013 when a company, Team Solar, allegedly used two women to weave political contacts and duped several influential people of large sums of money by offering to make them business partners or by setting up solar panels.
Saritha Nair said on Wednesday that the money she paid to Chandy was part of the Rs 7 crore demanded by him. She said she also gave Rs.40 lakh to minister Mohammed. Even as Chandy said he had done no wrong, she said the truth was otherwise.
"After the unbearable tension of carrying all this on my head for the past more than three years, now I feel very relaxed as I am speaking the truth. I will prove through evidence that Chandy is wrong and I am right."
Nair and her live-in partner Biju Radhakrishnan were arrested in the scandal in 2013 on charges of cheating numerous investors, who paid money for solar panels. While Saritha Nair is out on bail, Radhakrishnan is in jail after being accused of murdering his first wife.
In Thiruvananthapuram, RSP's Kovoor Kunjumon quit the Kerala assembly, saying he was disgusted with the UDF government, and pledged to rejoin the Left.
The Revolutionary Socialist Party has three legislators. With Kunjumon leaving, the strength of the house has come down to 138 and Chandy now has the support of 72 legislators. The Left commands 66 legislators in the 140-seat house.
Kunjumon said: "For seven months, I am unable to show my face to cashew factory workers (in my constituency) as all the factories are closed.
"Others may not know their feelings, but I know it because I am the son of a cashew factory worker. Along with our supporters, we will form the real RSP and will align with the Left," he said.
Kunjumon was elected to the assembly in 2001, 2006 and 2011 when his party was with the Left. Ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, he joined the UDF.
With inputs from agencies